Archive for the ‘Social’ Category

Sharada, fog of mercy

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Social, Women on September 7, 2013 at 7:24 am


O Sharada!
Your spotless white saree,
wraps your broken shell;
A gauze bandage
covering cigarette-butt burns.
I can’t see ’em,
My injured Goddess.
You hide them just well.

Above the river’s
turbulent waters,
Sunlight drenched,
you dazzle, you float.
A white mist, a fog
Of mercy you wear
like a white cloth.

Your Vina’s
Manicured music,
hides a string-bend,
pulled beyond it’s limits.
I strain to hear it,
O Sharada!
I thought it was music all along.

Are we ecstatic,
In your presence?
Are we blind to your cry?
Do we not hear
That your music
Is one of pain?

Should I lightlax3
My protest vigil candles
At your feet, Sharada?

Or if you so wish
Some fragrant mombattis
May cover the abuse
Just as perfectly as you have
All along.

Wealth and wisdom flow
much like a river gush.
Your discerning swan, though
sinks with a puzzled blush.

Take my eyes off from,
your broken face.
I need a loving smile.
Glossy calendar art,
Focus, help me pray
on godly things.
Of rituals I must complete

Here’s some talcum you may need,
to look just like her.
Take it, my gift to you.
A touch-up, a cover-up.
Sharda, a dab will do.
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Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Short Story, Social, Writing Assignments on June 23, 2013 at 10:34 am



I entered the barber shop via a hidden and decrepit side-street. I gently stepped over Jimmy – that lazy dog sprawled across the entrance to the barber shop. It noticed me after I had crossed over and quickly stood up to wag it’s tail enthusiastically. Jimmy, and that included every mongrel here named so, practiced the art of the welcome at the slightest hint it may be required. This was the third Jimmy that stood guard at the steps in the past few years. I acknowledged him by calling it’s name. He must be a barber’s karmic avatar, just like the previous two, unable to break free from the cyclical karmic forces that tied them down to a barber’s shop. He let out a contended high-pitched whine that quickly lowered in pitch to a wide silent yawn as he coiled around himself for comfort and sleep.

I deftly pushed the glass door that had a life-size sticker of a smiling woman’s face with hands clasped in a ‘namaste’ position. This was all Babu the barber had to offer as a receptionist and I was OK by the lack of fanfare here. The banner on top of this shop provided me with gentle amusement. ‘Babu’s Gents Beauty Barler’ it proclaimed, mocking my fine sense of linguistic prowess and shaking my firm opinion on a gender biased cabal and profession. This was good. One already had a sense of psychological trimming-down outside the barber shop; and by means of a reverse meta-physical extrapolation: the real trimming of real overgrown hair awaited inside Babu’s parlous: The haircut.

“Come, come” Babu invited me in with his typical South Indian hospitality, anglicizing a word-pair borrowed from his native tongue – Tamil, that had a general predilection for reduplication. In Tamil, simply stopping with the single word “Come” would have meant giving the guest a partial welcome. An incomplete invitation bordering on business-neutral. Babu’s was different. This was home and it demanded completeness in all words, deeds and actions.

He said that out loud enough to mean a general invitation on behalf of the few contended men sitting inside. I could count at least three of them that were overstaying their welcome that only Babu’s could provide. Each one of them felt obliged at that instance to make light conversation with me sometime during the course of my haircut. A self sustaining bio-sphere of happiness. That was what drew me in. A momentary hypnotizing event, this haircut. I would pick on elements of this parlor, as I reclined on my chair to ruminate on it’s divine purpose within this cozy clam-shell of a barber shop.
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Blood, Sweatshop & Tears

In Short Story, Social, Women, Writing Assignments on May 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm


APTOPIX Bangladesh Building Collapse


The dust-fog lifted swiftly into the air. For a few minutes that followed, the eclipsed scorching sun cast a gloomy shadow on a six-storey garment factory plaza, now pancaked into a two-storey rubble.

Selva rushed to the tiny window the size of an exhaust vent, to investigate the loud explosion.  A thought raced across his mind: Indu is dead

The local elections were in full swing, and political rivalries could turn up anything – even a cycle-bomb. As he peered outside, he had an eerie sense that he might be peering through a different window. The familiar view of a brick-clad facade of the drab and decrepit six-storey garment factory refused to greet him today. What greeted him today instead, was a rubble-heap of deathly proportions: fallen concrete beams with ripped-off and twisted metal rods, crumpled factory floors, and caved-in ceilings.

But the reason he was shell-shocked and the blood drained from his face, was the wordless realization that thousands just like him worked in the garment factory that this building housed.

And there was Indu on the fourth floor of this collapsed building. Buttons Section, third row to the right, next to window the size of an exhaust vent. Always waving her red dupatta through the vent-window at the sight of Selva getting off his clackety-clack Hero bicycle at 8:00 AM every weekday morning. Just like she did today. He had waved back to her. Where is she?

The floor manager was screaming his head off.

“The workers are trapped!” he yelled. “Let’s get them out”

Selva heard loud wails coming from another worker who was calling out to her sister somewhere in that collapsed building. There was instant chaos and panic on the floor. Selva was caught up with the rushing crowd, he rushed down the stairs and moved quickly to the high gates that fenced in the garment workers. The security guards did not budge to their request of opening them as it was not the appointed time for the gates to be opened. Some of the workers scaled the high fence.  The guards were quickly overpowered. The gates swung open and a burst of men rushed out towards the collapsed building. A dust cloud emerged behind them with unmatched flip-flops and slippers strewn about in it’s wake.

There was an undefined and invisible periphery around the collapsed building where the army of men suddenly stopped.

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The embrace

In Poem, Social on May 11, 2013 at 12:07 am


It’s tragic and at the same time beautiful.

Painful but liberating.

Personal and now public.

Disturbing but serene.

Dead but still life

To the unknown garment worker, you made known.

To all the dead, a memory.

For our contribution, a little guilt.

May you souls find peace and some rest.


  1. The photograph
  2. The post at PRI
  3. In a recent interaction with the photographer – Taslima Akhter:
    @Taslima, – On behalf of all of us here, our deepest condolences for the loss of your fellow citizens.

    there is an intense human need to know how the two people in your picture are related. At the same time the unknown relationship lends a tragic anonymity that maybe is important to maintain the picture as representative of all the garment workers that perished on that fateful day, not just representing a personal tragedy.

    As a photographer, were you criticized for having made this private moment public? If so what was your response?

    Taslima Akhter @Peter Thanks for your comment . I don’t know what is the relation between them or who they are. .Actually I don’t think it’s a private moment, I think they tried to save each other , when the collapse happened. Our owner, govt and international buyer all are responsible for this death. And they try to make workers as object who can make profit for them, But I think this image can speak that they are not ‘other’, they are human being like all of us. They are not only object or cheapest labor in the world they are human being, they have life-relatives- dream like us which are precious …


Gudiya – A doll that saved me

In Short Story, Women, Writing Assignments on April 28, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Sindhu clutched the green sheet that covered her, as she lay on the stretcher.  She stared at the ceiling.  She was parked in a freezer cold room with two other patients awaiting their turn at Operating Theater #3 of St. John’s Hospital.  She shivered.  She wished the ordeal would be over soon. She let her tears roll down her cheek and wet the joyless hospital pillow.

Her world came crashing last week.  Dr. Srinivasan made it clear, the baby needs to be aborted.  Sindhu was six months into her pregnancy.  The baby had already assumed a life of it’s own. Stuffed toys of every pastel color and shade filled the baby room. She gently stroked her bump.  The loss of motherhood was devastating.

Her stretcher moved forward suddenly without notice, as the nurse proceeded to Operating Theater 3.

The miracle of childbirth eluded Sindhu for over five years after that first aborted journey into motherhood.  So long, that she almost gave up on conception. She conceded that having a baby would be a miracle, second only to the survival of their strained marriage. Dr. Geetha was her last hope. All else had failed so far. She visited her once a month. The fertility clinic was becoming an all too familiar place.

“These reports do not indicate any abnormality. Just take some time off from work. Go to a resort, a place of pilgrimage maybe…anything to take your mind off of your stress” said Dr. Geetha. Sindhu found that extremely difficult, that was like asking her to stop thinking of pink elephants.  The pink elephants immediately filled her thoughts and refused to move out.

“Where is he?” Sindhu looked around for Ramesh. “He should be back from the pharmacy by now.  Where is he?”

Maybe he met a friend and went out for tea? Oh God! I hope he does not disclose the purpose of our visit! Such a blabbermouth, that Ramesh, waiting to broadcast and make public the most intimate of secrets!

Could you believe he actually told his mother! Totally uncalled for, she has no right to know! And how is she going to help us anyway? She is probably going to start a chain-mail, asking everybody to forward it to ten other strangers.

Before long everybody in the universe will come to know Sindhu was “having problems conceiving”, as the mother-in-law had once hissed furtively into the phone, to some other crony friend of hers.

“Taking my mind off” she told herself as she picked up a tattered Femina magazine and decided to continue where she had left off last week.  She found the page missing and torn-off. She showered her irritation on Ramesh, who eventually appeared with a large green tender coconut in his hand and a still-warm newspaper-wrapped packet of idlis – those fluffy steamed rice dumplings that she loved.
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The anklet bells went dead

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Political, Short Story, Social, Women on April 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm




Bhanu Devi left the small water tap running while she scrubbed off the dried-up blobs of henna paste on her palms and feet. As the olive green henna dregs, washed away on the white tiles of a dimly lit bathroom, an intricate bloody-red pattern emerged on her palms and feet. She reminisced on her own wedding preparations of a long time ago.

“Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land” demanded her mother to the one applying the henna design, a day prior to her wedding, some three decades ago.

With that, the design grew even more intricate. Bhanu Devi snapped out of this dreamy haze when she heard foot steps behind her.

“Don’t waste the water” said Meera Bai the prison warden, rather stiffly.

Bhanu Devi looked at her palms. They were flush red with the henna design. Yes, they were intricate. Yes, a mosquito will find it difficult to find an open spot to land. She turned her palms over to reveal an equally red finger tip and nails. She weaved her fingers together and imagined herself as a dead corpse. She would make a pretty one, she thought. She shut the tap, picked up her white saree and gave it a quick wiggle. She was prepared to die.

Meera Bai escorted her back to her cell. It was too early for the other prison mates to be awake. It was 3:00 AM on a cold Tihar jail Thursday morning, and Bhanu Devi’s anklet bells proved an insufficient wake-up ringtone for the deep sleepers. She passed Rupali the prayerful, Mohsina the beautician, Savitri the musician and Jamila the vaastu expert. The anklet bells were Savitri the musician’s idea. They were all behind bars, they were all fast asleep. They knew each other for more than a decade now. They were the survivors who lived past an alarming mortality rate in this notorious maximum security prison for hardened criminals. She stopped at her tracks, as she felt a tug at her saree. She looked down. It was Jamila the vaastu expert, kneeling down, one hand holding the prison bar and the other, Bhanu Devi’s white saree.

“Face east, you will attain moksha” she whispered fiercely. Having said that she let out a loud wail and started crying.

Just the previous night, Mohsina the beautician applied the henna on Bhanu Devi’s hands and feet. She was constantly reminded of her brief as the rest of the girls giggled – “Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land”

Rupali the prayerful, read from the scriptures, but they did not have the patience to hear it. So she slipped into a love triangle Bollywood potboiler. “Rupali, tell us what you would have done, if you caught your husband cheating?” They actually knew it in great detail, and needed nothing to jog their memories. This unusual night was a last supper of sorts, and it threw up unusual questions. They already knew that Rupali had made it impossible to find any trace of the victim – her cheating husband, and his illicit lover, some two decades ago.

“Let us not dwell in a past where we can never find redemption. Memory only serves to confirm our rotten selves.” Rupali slipped into a simple sermon to an attentive audience of four that night. “Only action is a great redeemer, hence let us do good deeds”

Bhanu Devi leaned forward to clutch Rupali, but stopped abruptly realizing that she had pasty henna on her hands. “Thank you for keeping me alive in this dark world”

Mohsina the beautician pulled her gently back and signaled to Savitri the musician to wipe the tears from Bhanu Devi’s face “Just dab, not wipe. We do not want the kajal to smear the entire face”

Savitri the musician made it abundantly clear that the anklet bells be of the seventh note of the swaras. The “Nishadha” or the high pitched “ni” of the musical scale. “Nothing else would do” she had mentioned to Lalu the pimp, who was a tone deaf gate-keeper of prisons, and got it right after the fifth try. “Ni, you bloody idiot!” yelled Savitri the musician loudly into his ears. “Ni, Ni, Ni, SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi, Ni, Ni, get it?”

Lalu, finally got it by sheer luck. It was the luck of trial-and-error. The anklet bells matched the damned “Ni”, a high-frequency note that Savitri the musician swore you could hear from the other side of the universe. It was her damned idea, that this high pitched note, could be heard loud and clear from a distance. Even from the gallows, that is.

Jamila the vaastu expert, gasped for breath, by which time everybody was awake. “Do not worry darling, we are with you!” cried somebody in the dark and it was clear it was a male voice.

Bhanu Devi walked the 240 steps north, 300 steps east, up a small staircase of 5 steps, 34 steps right and across the multi-faith temple-mosque-church for lost causes to arrive at the gallows. “Hey, Bhagwan!” said the hangman as he nervously slipped the black mask over her face and proceeded to tighten the noose that he hoped would not fail. He was no professional hangman. But they said they will pay him Rs.5,000 if he gets it right. They forgot to tell him it would be a woman though. India’s first woman to be hanged to death. “Beyond rarest-of-rare cases” he thought to himself as he pulled the lever.

Bhanu Devi slumped out of sight and into the dark gallows. She did make a valiant attempt to jangle the anklets in the depths to produce the “Ni” that Savitri assured would reach their ears. That she had moved on from this world to another.

“Did you hear that?” asked Savitri at around 5:01 AM that fateful Thursday morning. That high pitched “Ni” reached her ears.

Three times before it went dead.


  1. Pranab clears way for first-ever hanging of a woman
  2. Vijay Madhav’s cover – ARR’s Uyire/Tu Hi Re
  3. The Death Penalty Worldwide
  4. “It’s like living in a graveyard.”
  5. Dearth of hangmen in India



Other Short Stories
bharathi raghu pieta
A Delivery in the Slow Mail Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla Gudiya – A doll that saved me



Pieta Carnatic

In Arts, Music, Music, Poem, Religion, Women on March 30, 2013 at 6:42 am

A Good Friday reflection, set to the Carnatic raaga, Jounpuri. Aadi taalam
Mahakavi Bharathiyar, wrote this poem when he had misplaced a photograph of his mother. He pines to see her face again. I have set this poem and it’s lyrics to the sorrow of a mother who has just lost her son.
The Shroud of Turin, was made public after 40 years. It is assumed to be an image of Jesus. Mostly wrapped in controversy and mystery! Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, signed it’s public viewing, beginning Good Friday 29th March, 2013. The need to see a picture of the divine christ, bears an uncanny but easy human parallel to the poet’s intense need to recover his mother’s picture. It is this intense need that keeps the Shroud of Turin very real for many believers of the faith, irrespective of what science confirms as true or untrue.
Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus. Pieta is a marble statue of Michaelangelo that depicts a limp and dead son in his mother’s arms. I wonder if these words of the Mahakavi, did not pass through a grieving mother’s mind?

Aasaimugam marantho pochey,

Alas, I have forgotten love’s very face,

idhai yaaridam solven adi thozhi;

My grief is unbearable, my friend;

Nesam marakavillai nenjam,

My heart remembers the tender affections,

enil Ninaivu mugam marakalaamo;

Memory cannot fail me now;

Kannil theriyuthoru thotram,

I perceive him in my mind’s eye,

athil Kannan azhagu muzhuthillai

But I fail to capture his beauty in full;

Nannu mugavadivu kaanil, andha

and I find his eyes,

Nallavalla sirippai kaanom;

Wanting of his winsome smile;

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Church of the Dispossessed – Part III

In Political, Religion, Social on March 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm

 …in need of a Theology of Liberation


Joseph Ratzinger was a trusted lieutenant of John Paul II.  He was the able administrator  of Catholic orthodoxy.  When he was elected pope in 2005, it was widely believed, that he would extend the conservative reign of the previous two popes.

A challenge of geographic representation:

About 7% of the world’s Catholics are in North America,  24% in Europe, 15% in Africa, 11% in Asia and a whopping 42% in Latin America.  In 1970, 40% of Catholics were in Europe.  Today that has declined to 24%.  The center of numeric gravity has already shifted from Europe to LatAm, over the years.  But the papal make-up has never reflected that tectonic shift.  The flock has continued to be lead by a shepherd not their own.

A challenge of theology:

The First Vatican Council of 1870 was a conservative response to the modern world that was  bustling with scientific revolution and emerging from the French revolution and beginning to steep into European nationalism.  This First Council adopted the doctrine of papal infallibility and condemns the following:  liberalism, science and the separation of church and state.  It rejected the world view.  It emphasized a monologue with itself and took a position of exclusion.

The Second Vatican Council of 1962, sought to open the windows to let in some fresh air.  It emphasized a dialog with the world and attempted to take a position of inclusion.  It adopted the following:  There exists a salvation outside of Catholicism, built bridges of understanding with Judaism and Protestantism.  It changed the language of the Mass from Latin to regional vernacular dialects.  The most visibly arresting of them all, was the priest turned 180 degrees, to now face the congregation instead of facing the altar.  Some of the important First World issues were sunk by the two popes that held a conservative sway:  Homosexuality, contraception and women priests.  These, by the way, were not Third World issues!  The third world tended to be much more conservative on issues related to sexuality and gender.

The challenges ahead:

The new pope has to initiate inter-faith dialogues between the Judeo-Christian-Muslim worlds to bring harmony and peace to a world at war with each other.  He has to take a firm stand against pedophilia and sexual abuses by the clergy.  The church’s first response is towards the victims of abuse.  He has to set the financial house in order.  He needs to be cognizant of the new emerging balance of power in the world.  He needs to invite a disillusioned youth back into the church.  Sending one way tweets and working the social media is a narrow strategy, if the reality on the ground is that your clergy is not in talking terms with the youth of today.

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Reference Documents

In Media on March 7, 2013 at 7:43 am
  1. Gujarat
  2. Ayodhya
  3. Joy Of Crowds
  4. Saints Goddesses and Kings – Susan.Baley
  5. S Deckla – History of Tamil Christianity
  6. Justice Verma Report
  7. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2012
  8. Human Rights Watch: 2013
  9. Michael Mann – Fascist
  10. Neither Man nor Woman, The Hijras of India – Serena Nanda
  11. The interpretation of cultures – Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz
  12. Jesus as Guru: The Image of Christ among Hindus and Christians in India –
    Jan Peter Schouten
  13. D. Bandopadhyay – Development Issues to deal with Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism – Government of India, Planning Commission

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Dancing queen on rope

In Arts, Poem, Women on March 1, 2013 at 6:33 am


Suspended, a dancing queen, in mid-air

walks a tight rope, little girl
as we squint at the bright sun and gaze up
she moves, she sways to the drum beats
of an equally hungry father

she moves, he moves from
and we cannot see the pillar
or post up-ahead
she makes progress, she stops


she feigns a tumble
a misstep and we gasp
how bold, how brave, how young
we do ask relevant questions
relevant to us
a village circus ekes out a city life
it can’t, but we won’t, tell them

we have pinned her forever
to the sky
one less to worry about here on earth

she helps us navigate
boredom of ground realities



This is poetry of the damned. Poetry involves risk taking. One has to be a bit depraved or deprived of something to actually make an impact as a poet. They are personal and leave you vulnerable. That is the reason I stopped taking these risks. These risks are scary to me and I cannot sugar-coat them. But I intend to take some now. This being a revival attempt after I left the poetic form alone 25 years ago.

Justice JS Verma recommendations

In Women on January 23, 2013 at 10:01 pm


The Justice JS Verma Committee, constituted to suggest amendments to Indian criminal laws relating to crimes against women, submitted today, January 23, 2013, its report to the Home Ministry.

I have hosted this report for easy reference. I know I will be quoting from it in the future and making references to specific pages of the report. Here is how you can too.

  1. Head over to my blog @
  2. Click on the above report.
  3. Use Find to search through the document, or if you are already on the page you want to reference,
    note down the page number. Add 23 to that number. This new number is ‘x’
    add #page=x to the URL of the document

    Example: Page 250 on the pdf would be:

  4. Shrink it with bitly or tiny, thus:

Related news:

  1. A moment of triumph for women
  2. Alchemizing anger to hope
  3. Implement Justice Verma Committee Recommendations Immediately: Freedom Without Fear Campaign
  4. India goes backwards on Human Rights
  5. Human Rights Watch – How is India faring?

Chemical castration is a weak deterrent to rape

In Social on January 1, 2013 at 8:00 pm


a tribute by Julie McCarthy of NPR a BBC interview with Damini’s father

India saw a tragic conclusion to an intensely watched incident.  The 23-year old victim of gang-rape passed away.  The protests that gathered steam at India Gate, broke down with grief and demanded severe forms of punishments including death by hanging.  One such popular form of punishment being toyed around was chemical castration (ChemCast) of the rapists.  The Congress party quickly picked up chemical castration as a viable deterrent to rape.

In my opinion, they are trying to appease a seething mass of protesters into believing they are tough on this violence against women.

To understand the confusion, let us first lay to rest some popular misconceptions regarding ChemCast:

  • No, they do not pour acid over erring organ
  • No, the erring organ does not fall off
  • No, it is not all that painful. an injection’s needle prick is all the pain
  • No, the loss in libido is not permanent, it lasts for three months only

Interestingly, due to some strong myths being busted above, I would have disappointed many Indians that are demanding a severe punishment to convicted rapists.

Chemical castration in a way is a cure for hypersexuality which often pushed a person to sexual crimes, so I would classify it as a curative rather than punitive option.

– Dr Rommel Tikkoo, Max Super Speciality Hospital Saket.


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Infidelity – The Petraeus Affair

In Media, Political, Social on November 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

The best of men are only men at their very best ~ John Charles Ryle

English pastor [1816-1900]

The Director of the CIA David Petraeus, resigned on account of an affair that was exposed by an FBI investigation, with his biographer Paula Broadwell.  The cheating heart and wandering eye story is an old one, posing a grave threat to marital relationships and causing reputational damage.  What’s the point in covering this story, when there are tons of publications, both seedy and reputable that covered it with great gusto?

Different cultures treat infidelity differently.  The impact on marriage and careers differ.  The social acceptance or ridicule of non-monogamy differ in different cultures.  The religious, moral and cultural restraints to non-monogamy vary.

Here is a look at the how and why purely from an American cultural context.  It will be really exciting to translate some of this to an Indian context.  I will leave that for next time, when I am more knowledgeable of that difference.  I am simply transcribing and paraphrasing from the audio of Tom Ashbrook’s OnPoint radio podcast referenced below.  Absolutely nothing original on my part.  I find the conversations with David Buss and Pepper Schwartz insightful and explain in great detail the core of the infidelity issue.  David is an evolutionary psychologist at UT Austin and Pepper is a professor of sociology and is a sexologist at UW, Seattle.  In brief here are the questions they are addressing:

  1. why do we have affairs?
  2. what is the price we pay if we get caught?
  3. what is his fault?  what is her fault?  what is their fault?
  4. how do you avoid infidelity?

Why do we have affairs?

Infidelity appears to be a fairly common but is a deadly malaise in our society.  The shocking revelation in the Petraeus scandal is not infidelity itself, but the fact that a four star general succumbed to it.  Statistically speaking close to 30 to 50% of couples who are in a committed relationship step out of bounds of their commitment.  About 75% of males and 65% women say that they will have an affair if they have the promise of not getting caught or the consequence of their action is zero.  Apparently the cultural upbringings, the religious restraints and the fear to commit a moral transgression anchors us strongly in a monogamous relationship.  As one caller stated it well:

There is something much greater than “what she does not know will not hurt her”.  There is the “what I know will hurt me” that stops me short of going astray.

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India Shining

In Media on November 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm

When a father hands over an infant to the mother, she instinctly checks to see if the diapers are soiled.  This is irrespective of how clean the child or the diaper may appear from the outside.

The mother does not curse the child for soiling the diaper. She just goes about giving him or her a good cleaning and a new diaper.  It’s called the Art of the Diaper Change.  I am kidding.  It’s got no name, or probably only referred to as a diaper change.  It results in a quick, reflexive and instinctive action from the mother and it does the baby a lot of good.

By shining the flashlight on India’s underbelly, we are looking to see if India’s diapers are soiled and if it needs a diaper change.  It’s a huge country, and truth be told, there’s a lot of something that demands we take a fire hose to it!  But to be blind to the blight by calling it India Shining instead, is to do the nation great disservice as we have not even checked to see if the country is wearing anything that prevents a toxic dump on it’s citizens.  Such selective blindness only indicates to all that you have accepted this condition.  That it is normal within your field of vision, to encounter such decay.  And hence such rot will spread right in front of your blind eye.  Such tag-lines shift the focus from the much needed task of development.  You cannot let the Indian government off the hook this easily.  Such tag-lines are not pats-on-the-back, it’s a resignation to enough-good-has-been-done-by-you, now let’s retire and watch some cricket.

When Prathap Suthan, National Creative Director with Grey Worldwide (India) advertising agency, came up with the tagline India Shining, for a 60-second video produced by the BJP-led government, little did he realize it’s political potential.  The tagline became very popular in the early 2000 as a direct mental hook into the advances made by the BJP-led government.  They wanted to highlight the steps they took to boost economic growth, slash interest rates, stabilise prices, expand road and telecom and health networks, and offer free basic education.  It is ironic that the current Congress chief had this to say back then:

“It may be shining for some in the government but definitely not for entire India” retorted Congress president Sonia Gandhi

Ironic because the baby’s soiled diapers were equally neglected by both parties, or should we say neglected by both parents?  There was no diaper change for this country in the offing.  It actually seems to have gotten worse as the media reports one too many rotten areas.  They are dishing out the dirt on India faster than we can solve our Sudoku.  Is the situation really bad and did it get this rotten overnight?  Or sensationalism demands that only negative news be covered for the headlines?  Why is the underbelly on display?  Please!  let me have my breakfast in peace!

If you grimmace at the underbelly because you are not used to being exposed to those nether regions of our nation, then brace yourself because things are changing.  The negatives need not be sensational all of the time.

There is now a thoughtful, methodical and sustained journalism covering a part of the Indian social fabric not used to the searing spotlights.  Social media adds to it’s sustenance, wider reach and intimacy through dialog.

You will now be exposed to areas you have conveniently turned a blind eye to.  Like the woman in the picture, the light may be blinding at first.  We will have to also remember the audience is no longer India.  The stage is global now.

The report is gutsy and it’s no longer about Bengal tigers, snake charmers and half-naked fakirs with evil intentions, meant to confirm to the retired western armchair hunter what he always knew was true about India.  It’s the truth about India, and it’s very different.

I know the Indian media is doing a fairly decent job in not messing up your crumpets and tea moment.  Who would want to read about poverty levels being set at Rs. 32 a day while your steaming breakfast this morning demands you think the lotus and feel the lotus.  The reader is the lotus after all and is immune to the dirty pond he is in.  Nope, not sufficiently sensational enough, we complain, if the news is not sensational and bores us with sustained coverage of a Dharavi slum education programme, for instance.  We have been receiving our daily dose of Breaking News, that sensationalizes because thats the best it could do with cub reporters on one hand and a dull reader that demands nothing else on the other.   The news reporter no longer thinks of himself as an agent provocateur or an agent of change.  Those ideals have lost their meaning in the clamor for ratings and advertisement revenues.  The news paper has simply become a massive real estate for the highest bidder.

They are in need of a serious revival in approach, or the most important tool for social change in India will be lost forever.

Those days of reading insipid news are numbered however.  There appears to be dramatic changes in what we see and hear in the media.  We have given access to foreign media to cover this changing landscape of ours and they are doing a fine job.  Indian media has taken a cue and is changing rapidly too.  Social media has given rise to an unprecedented feedback mechanism where the journalist and the reader feel well connected.  It has also become a spot for some serious cross-pollination of ideas from assorted networks.  The reader has become media savvy and socially conscious at the same time.  Middle-class India now has the right tools to make it’s chronic complaints heard.

The foreign news media will introduce it’s media savvy reporters into the mix.  These guys have a keen sense of western sensibilities, which allows them to be aggressive in coverage, scathing in their uncompromising observations.  They have no strings attached to other social intricacies that otherwise limit opinions and viewpoints to the point of dishing out a bland filler.  They will fish out stories you never heard about or could only fathom if Aamir Khan dished it out with a box of Kleenex.

Welcome to the underbelly.  There has never been a shining moment like right now!

Additional notes:

  1. European media: From India shining to India tarnished


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Wanton soup for the Indian Rapist

In Social on October 31, 2012 at 3:04 pm

That was not a typo.  I did not mean the Chinese wonton soup, I meant wanton, as in a cruel or violent action.  As in a wanton behavior leading to rape.  The reason I chose it is because a socio-political administrative system called the Khap Panchayat in Haryana has blamed the consumption of the Chinese fast food chow-mein for the sharp spike in rape incidents in the state.

Chow-mein according to them leads to hormonal imbalance that makes an otherwise normal man, pounce unexpectedly onto an innocent woman.  The other bizarre solution, other than banning such libido inducing fast food, was to reducing the marriageable age for girls, so they are “no longer in circulation” and instantly removed from harms way.  Harm that is, from cavemen neanderthals who until now were hidden from view under large rocks.  They claimed this was done during Mughal rule to save the honor of women.  

How does India deal with rape?

If you are beaten, you’re said to have incited it, if you’re raped you’re said to have invited it. We all know that these things run very deep in the culture  – Gloria Steinem, feminist author

Rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused in India

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Looking at Life Through Oakley glasses

In Social on October 22, 2012 at 3:54 am

Looking at life through rose-tinted glasses, we are told, is being unrealistically optimistic about what can and cannot be achieved by the wearer of these glasses.

When I see the clean image of Lance Armstrong, sustained over a decade , mutilated over a doping scandal, I am torn to bits myself and wonder if he saw the world differently through his Oakleys?

I take the concept of a hero for a spin to see how we can address a few annoying tugs of the heart.  I compare Lance Armstrong to a character out of a Greek tragedy, only to understand what makes us tick.  Why do we follow this story, what makes it interesting?

We must shed tears at the end of this tragic play, or it’s not befitting the script.  At the heart of my argument is the concept of a hero’s journey.  The journey a hero must undertake from cradle to grave, through the crucible of change leading to growth.  This mumbo jumbo is better explained with some concrete examples:

The hero’s flaw

We are intensely interested in a hero that has a character, moral or tragic flaw.  A dark secret that remains hidden and is revealed only at the end. This steadily intensifies our curiosity level over time to a crescendo of frenzy.  The end revelation could go one of two directions: a religious salvation if positive or a pagan purgatory if negative.  Both of these are valid character arches of a hero.

While we accept wholeheartedly an uplifting catharsis, we are just not ready for the letdown watershed moment!

So, did he do it?  Was he always clean as he has always maintained?  He couldn’t possibly win seven TDF titles without help from some friends! 

The self-revelation

The most redeeming of all stories has the character go through an incredible change in how he behaves towards himself and others.  What is the proper way to treat others?  This self-realization leads to visible growth.  This change in psychological and moral behavior, expressed by self-realization of the proper way for treating those he has hurt all this time, makes for an incredible growth in character.  Ultimately all stories express growth in a character.

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The Hijras of India

In Social on October 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

The hijras of India are unlike any you might see in any other part of the world.  You might have occasionally come across men dressed as women, wearing garishly bright makeup. They immediately attract attention to themselves for all the wrong reasons and most often win ridicule.

We are really not sure if eunuch, transvestite, gay or transgender is actually the right term for a hijra as their social mores are very unique and are almost above classification by western terms.  One can attempt to know them by their social mores rather than by classification by taxonomy, so here goes:

Who is a hijra?  

Is there no western classification to this transgender from India?  Because of a lack of proper english definition, most research points to hijras associated with a matriarchal, hierarchical clan that encompasses LGBT orientations.  Some relevant points here to help you understand who a hijra really is:

1. There are more than a million hijras in India, the largest presence in any country!

2. Hijras live in clans or all-male hijra communities.  The hierarchical head of such a community is called a guru.  The followers are chelas.  The gurus and chelas live in harmony.

3. In larger cities, like Delhi and Mumbai, hijra communities could coalesce based on language and caste but they are mostly secular in their views on everything.

Indian movies have portrayed hijras effectively in wedding celebrations and blessing of the new born
A popular Tamil movie Paruthiveeran, picturised Aravanis in a kick-ass song sequence. The Hindi movie Kunwara Baap, had hijras welcoming and blessing a new born baby. This timeless and evergreen classic to this day is an all-time favorite of the hijras.

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