article, free speech, life, literature and books, REALISM

The Handmaid’s Tale: Why adaptation of Atwood’s dystopia deserved the Emmy

“We lived as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Who could’ve predicted that a dystopian show could give online streaming portals a run for their money? The king of streaming did shake in its place when “The Handmaid’s Tale” won eight Emmys very recently.  And that is no mean feat.

What is so eerie about Handmaid’s tale is how close it is to the nightmares in the present cultural context. It instantly drives home the fear of a totalitarian state, towards which the ideological warfare in our times is pointing. To take women as pivots in a story and do it justice, all the while staying true to the essence of the novel is marvelous. The producers have contemporized Margaret Atwood’s dystopia by the same name and given us something that is beautiful yet horrific in its portrayal. The Emmy was well on its way.

Gilead (which is what the US has been named after being taken over by religious fundamentalists) is home to women who serve at the whims and fancies of their male counterparts. Fertile women serve as concubines to men, their voices muffled by power and threats. The story revolves around Offred (the very beautiful and charming Elizabeth Moss) and other women, who have been separated from their families and forced to bear children for their superiors.  The narration is in an omniscient first person, which lets us peek into the psyche of the lead and witness the raging internal conflict which is a microcosm of the external turmoil to a certain extent.

I had to pause and process different situations on more than a few occasions. I binge watched the entire season, which is breath-taking in its entirety. The show is layered- it has political overtones, and the show’s target audience is very specific. But it reaches out and connects more people in its portrayal of how sections of this community live without access to basic rights.

Without giving away the plot, the resemblance of the narrative to our world is both awesome and nerve-wracking. Religious fundamentalism with some wacko ideas about creation and women rights, the show can be read as political work on the current plight of women in the middle east. It is also conscious to the debate of pro-life vs pro-choice raging in the United States.

The scenes of power, subjugation and slavery leave you on tenterhooks; the rule of ultra-religious hypocrite bigots makes it eerily like something that is overtaking our own country. People are being killed in the name of religion and ideology. To use old religious texts as blueprints to create an ideal world now and the consequences it may bear has been realistically displayed.

Certain hard-hitting scenes – the demolition of a church, burning of old texts and the underground brothel which houses women who have a ‘little shelf life left’ – all serve to highlight the hypocrisy of their time (and ours). What would we be in a world devoid of free speech, movement, LGBTQ rights and religious order (whatever that even means anymore)?

What I loved about the show is how normal the cast is – you don’t have superbly good looking models parading as serious actors. All the characters are indeed very memorable- you have the crazy woman, the obedient wife, the rebellious lesbian and so many others who give you different perspectives on the issue. A certain hamfisted characterization could have been avoided in the black and white portrayal of individuals. That critique apart, the show spells must watch if you think this world is a circus and we are all either clowns or spectators.

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Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.

article, HATE, TERRORISM, Uncategorized

THE COLOUR OF HUMAN DECLINE

Stephen Hawking lists rise of artificial intelligence as one of the threats to human species because once robots reach a stage of independent evolution, their conscious goals and desires may be unpredictably different from ours. However, with the rising beast-like behavior in the form of insane cruelty towards humans and animals alike, by humans themselves, it appears that we won’t have to wait a millennium to witness a catastrophic decline in human civilization as an evolved species. We might as well turn time and go back the good ol’ ape ways.

Incidents of terrorism can be discussed in the wake of recent attacks in Baghdad, Dhaka, Turkey, Medina and many other states which came under fire from terrorist groups or even home-grown militant outfits. As I am coerced into taking off my glass of optimism and say that this was an act by misguided religious fanatics, I do believe that these events have a colour. And it is Red.

I see Red each time I read such incidents and worry for the sake of all those affected. I see myself in the 19 year old girl who lost her life to the colour of religion. Or in fact, to the colour of human decline. We have been degraded to a state of no self conscience; where a verse from a religious text is the tight rope on which the condemned walk; which decides the value of one life over another. If they are fighting in the name of some deity, do they believe that human creation is an act of the divine and the value of human life must not be the prerogative of certain individuals whose religion supposedly surpasses ours in value? I don’t condemn Islam. No religion is at fault. No text teaches brutality but these acts are committed by brainwashed groups of psychopaths. Nobel Prize winning Physicist and atheist Stephen Weinberg said: “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” It is ironical that I cite a quote that speaks in opposition to my belief but I do it because that is the most easily assumed reason behind any act of mass violence.

It has come to light that some of the attackers were educated elites, one even being the son of a politician. While extremist ideologies of a secular nature can be regarded as one of the primary causes of terrorism, political factors are not far behind. Under the garb of religion, many turn to such extreme measures due to political or even personal reasons.

I kept my nose close to newspaper articles and comments made by individuals on this matter. One comments criticized the events, clearly lamenting the degeneration of Muslim ideology, asking what kind of Muslims would kill Muslims and others in the holy season of Ramadan. I almost laughed. Is this what all our education and calls of secularism come to? It is despicable on the part of a person to question the actions of member of a community, expressing concern over the time of the year.  Will you have taken the pain with a grain of salt had it happened, say, around September maybe? This is precisely the reason I don’t question religion. Religion is only a garb for a polished external existence, while internal hatred spews such measures under personal misguided fanaticism.

It is however true that certain factions have misinterpreted sections of a holy text and thus unleashed a volley of social destruction and hatred. It is a matter of great concern that humans have been reduced to mindless machines that are out to kill their own kind. Is the cost of human evolution so diminutive that it flows in the streets unhindered?

Complexities of the causes of terrorism are widely known and accepted. But no cause can change the face of the result. It is besmirched with Red. No homage can bring back the dead. The only acceptable compensation would be to unearth the root of this evil, unmask the face that hides behind religion or any other origin, and fight it from ground up.

 

article, HATRED, politics, religion, Uncategorized

Nihilism, Death of religion and rise in Organized crime

Angry

The internet spells doom for religion, and an ever-rising graph for organized crime, which has become a bane to our modern society. While the murder of Akhlaq over beef consumption was the writing on the wall for organized religion and its dominance, which often transcends notions of moral law and societal constructs, it spits straight in the face of those who claim that religion is adequate moral police for individuals. While faith without religion is a vain exercise for self-affirmation, religion without faith only aims to train men to toe the religious line of man-made dogmas without any inherent understanding of their individual beliefs. While virtual life creates a parallel world of greater self expression and social cohesiveness among faiths that did not necessarily pre-exist before modern times, it also in a varied sense, limits the real perception of the individual and the moral tone which binds us irrevocably with our environment.

By death of religion, which is apparent in my essay’s title, I do not mean the literal death of religion as an organized social construct, but as a life-force which dominates man’s actions which provide a pathway to heaven, nirvana or any other zenith of self-realization and oneness with God. As we see, there is a rise in the number of Atheists, Agnostics and generally the ‘nowhere in particular’ kinds of people all across the world. That is not to imply that religion has died; just that it holds less credence with its populace. To practice faith without an over-arching system of imposed religious practices is what people at large are turning towards. It only seems rational, to dissociate oneself from tenets of organized religion and exercise one’s faith independently. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that as religion is moving away from being pathway to the creator and increasingly becoming insurmountable defense to facilitate immoral activities under the garb of religious fervor. Moving from the issues of organized religion to those of organized crimes, there is an increment in the incessant tussle between the rational and religion. Incidents such as those that recently occurred at Mathura, and those in the recent past, as the Akhlaq murder incident, I see undertones of Nihilistic philosophy of the self-proclaimed Godmen/Cult leaders who manage to lure the impoverished, illiterate masses, and on occasions, even the rational.

Nihilism, as a philosophy propounded by Nietzsche, believes in total boycott of established rules and institutions, and often, a need for violent activities, or for that matter, any revolutionary activity, that is aimed at being destructive to oneself and society. Nihilists more oft than not, try to transcend the boundaries of moral laws as well as those established by the society, in order to prove their own ideology as superior to others. A similar theory is expressed succinctly and ostracized by Dostoevsky in his opus magnum, Crime and Punishment, through the characters of Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov. Absence of absolute religion and ideas of social influence lead men to the path of heinous crimes and gross misinterpretation of their own actions as being rationalistic as opposed to utilitarian. Self proclaimed leaders like Ram Vriksha Yadav, with their inordinate demands along with other ‘Satyagrahis’, are real-life nihilists who jump the lines of law and order with the grace of a lame frog.

What connects these modern nihilists to the concords of followers of organized religion is the methodology with which they work. Absence of a strong groundwork of faith, which is often replaced by fanaticism and absolutist ideology, shakes the very foundation of such unions. Forceful super-imposition of their rights over those of others and resorting to inordinate methods to exert power leads to unfortunate circumstances as those aforementioned.  While there are a number of reasons like cultural political and social factors, many studies have claimed to show a positive correlation between crime and dearth of adequate religious fervor. While religious hypocrisy holds its shaky stand on faith, these vigilantes need to rein in their bovine love and attach it to a more realistic understanding of humanity. Religion cannot, and must not be used to justify murder. Taking the law in one’s own hands is no solution in an apparently democratic and secular setup. Ambiguous religious identity and nihilistic attitudes that exacerbate tense situations need to be guarded from becoming absolutist ideas.