One Up for Democracy!

I like what is happening in India. I approve of the fact that people from all walks of life are making their views heard on all issues…ranging from the Aamir Khan vs. the Gujarat government controversy to reservations to The DaVinci Code. It indicates that, to an extent, democracy is alive in the nation.
I say to an extent. And for a reason. The governmnt has ample evidence now that an overwhelming number of people are opposed to reservations. There are pro-quota people, no doubt. But Arjun Singh’s statement that the government will go ahead with reservations, no matter what, smacked strongly of autocracy. Does public opinion count for nothing?
Another thing about this whole mess that pissed me off was an article by Sharad Yadav which I read in Hindustan Times. He accuses the anti-reservationists of having an elitist mentality. He says that the upper castes still can’t bear the thought of lower castes being educated. What utter bullshit! Anti-reservationsits are against reservations…not education for all. Yadav is just a rabble-rouser who believes in circular arguments and logical fallacies to make his point.
Anyway..back to the point that I was initially making. I like what is happening because it indicates that we Indians are not passive spectators of political drama. We’re slowly beginning to make ourselves heard, loud and clear. It was always a mystery to me why we, who argue vociferously amongst ourselves about Sourav Ganguly and the BJP and petrol prices, never take to the streets to make a point. I suppose it is the regular middle-class mentality that we all have, “if it doesn’t affect me directly, I’ll not bother about it.”
I’m an armchair critic, of course. The only time I took to the streets was when I took part in a march protesting against the war on Iraq. But apart from that I’ve been content to just watch TV debates, read editorials and sign petitions.
Being pro-active is so important. It was the aam janta which forced the US government to pull out of Vietnam. But that is the stuff of legend already. A more immediate example would be of the French students who forced the government to pull out an employment bill that would’ve made holding down jobs difficult for students. That was ‘People Power’.
Of course, ‘People Power’ is not always successful. The student protests at Tiannenmen Square resulted in failure. But at least a point was made. Even today, we count the unknown student who faced-down a military tank as one of our modern day heroes. Such moments in history bring in fresh realization that we have the gift of reason and communication for a reason. We have to make ourselves heard…it doesn’t matter for what. Everyone has an opinion and every opinion has to be heard. Unlike what Arjun Singh said, the government cannot just go ahead with its decision, ‘no matter what’. This is our country, our government. We elected the people who sit in the Lok Sabha. They are there to serve us, to represent us…not to rule us.

Clearing out the Slum(dwellers)

Ok, so the Supreme Court has said that poverty is no excuse for invading public places and setting up shanties there. Fair enough. I’ve often thought how beautiful Azad Maidan would look without all the squatters and it would be such a pleasure walking down Mahapalika Marg if only the various ‘charsis’ weren’t there.

But where are the slum dwellers to go? They’re all migrants from rural areas. They left their native villages in search of better livelihood and came to the cities. Naturally the cities got over-crowded, basic infrastructure started breaking down and living conditions fell way below par. And its a good thing that the judiciary realizes the importance of public spaces, especially in a city like Mumbai where to get any amount of fresh air, you have to remain indoors.

These migrants left their villages because conditions there are primitive. In the fifty-odd years since independence, the administration hasn’t done much to raise living standards in rural India. Power is erratic, commercial agriculture has turned traditional living patterns upside down, potable water is becoming scarce. Now the ejected slum dwellers have no choice but to go back.

I’m in total agreement with the SC in the matter of public spaces. We need them…desperately. But in my opinion the court hasn’t given us a solution. It has merely complicated matters.


Moving on to more literary matters. I just finished reading the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman. I was fascinated not just by the highly original story, but also by the fantastic characterisations and the high-quality action. However, what makes the trilogy more interesting is that Pullman had an agenda when he wrote it and he made no bones about it. He’s an avowed athiest and he makes it very clear in the books. The books are propaganda material for all those who think religion is make-believe and does more harm than good. However, Pullman criticized the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis precisely because he thought they were ‘propaganda’ too. The difference is that Lewis’s books have a very strong Christian theme.

So what does this mean? That it is ok to propagate atheism, but not ok to talk about religion? That’s a bit unfair, I think. Everyone should have the right to say what they want. If you don’t want to listen, you’d better turn deaf.


That reminds of something else. The whole Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy. I remember getting so confused and I kept asking myself…should there be any limits on the freedom of speech and expression? On the one hand, I believe that everyone has an opinion and they should be allowed to air it. On the other hand, I thought the cartoons were in really bad taste and it would’ve been better for all concerned if they had never been published. I was especially upset that many European newspapers printed those cartoons just to prove a point. It seemed a little spiteful.

All this reminded me of an essay I’d read in college. I don’t remember who wrote it or what its name is. All I remember is the essayist saying that while freedom is important, it should not impinge upon or put at risk other peoples’ freedom. For instance, I’m perfectly free to walk down the middle of the road. But if I did that, I’d violate the freedom of motorists to drive down that same road without any accidents. So basically, there have to be some laws and rules and regulations to make sure that one person’s freedom is not in opposition to another person’s freedom.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that freedom of speech and expression is fine, but it should be used with proper judgement.

Philosophy for Pessimists

A song that always makes me think “that’s my life!” is Ironic by Alanis Morissette.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
Isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well isn’t this nice…”
And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you’re already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?
A little too ironic… and yeah I really do think…

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures
Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out

A pessimistic song, really. But I’ve often felt that it describes Life perfectly. I mean, how many times has it happened that just as you reach the traffic signal, the colour changes to red? Half a second early, and you would’ve just made it.

It’s what’s know as Murphey’s Law, I think. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The toast always falls on the buttered side, you always drop the crystal vase which your mom told you to handle with extreme care or she’ll skin you alive. That’s just Life I guess…making you dance to its little whims and fancies.

To defend myself against these whims of Fate, I’ve devised a strategy. I always imagine that the worst will happen and then Life does the exact opposite and the best thing imaginable happens. Of course, you can’t use this strategy consciously, as it were. The trick is to genuinely believe that something bad is going to happen. And to do this, you have to adopt a very negative view of Life. This way, expecting the worst becomes a way of life and then Life will keep handing you sweets instead of lemons.

Note: This method is not foolproof. And it takes years of practice before you become a true pessimist.

Harry Potter and the anti-Satanists

I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling. They’re enjoyable and make for wonderful, escapist fun in a fantasy world where magic resides along with the mundane. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? J K Rowling obviously meant her fantasy world to be read about and enjoyed. She certainly didn’t have any hidden agenda while writing about it, something which should be obvious to the rational reader.

Which is why it annoys me when people read too much into the series. Many find the series incredibly stupid and childish and overhyped. I agree the books are overhyped, and I can even see why someone may think they are childish and stupid. I’m fine with that point of view. But what I can’t stand are self-righteous people who decry the series on the basis that it propagates withcraft and should be banned. They claim Rowling is leading children into a life of sin and sorcery where they will never know God and religion.

Utter rubbish, in my opinion! Sin?? One of the first things that strikes you about the books is the great emphasis on love, sacrifice and loyalty. Last I heard, these were virtues, and not sins. Of course, I may be wrong. You see I’m too busy being lured by withcraft and have lost touch with the real world like Gioia Bishop, 10, who said, “I was eager to get to Hogwarts first because I like what they learned there and I want to be a witch.”

I’ve met many Potter fans and not one of them has been tempted into sorcery. If any fan has been, then he/she need help. There is nothing wrong with the books.

Some religious critics say that Harry Potter leads children to Satanism. Says the editor of ESPMinistries in Harry Potter: The Truth Behind The Magic,

In some instances I have seen psychic phenomena performed in the Harry Potter movies and book. For example, the movie showed Harry looking into a mirror and seeing the future. This is known as “mirror mancy”, this is a form of divination (the art of obtaining information of the spirit world forbidden by God Deut. 18:10). It is interesting to note that Sirhan Sirahan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy, said he practiced this phenomena and saw himself in the mirror killing Robert Kennedy before he committed the act. His defense was the “devil made me do it”.

Obviously, Sirhan Sirahan had issues. I’m sure if a good psychiatrist had been consulted, he would have found out exactly what Sirahan’s problem was. But it certainly was not Satanism.

The editor also says

I was horrified as I saw another scene where there was a large glass cage with a huge snake slithering on the floor, apparently there was a boy being mean to Harry Potter. Harry then performed his magic and put the boy in the cage with the snake, who was terrifying the kid.
Eventually he cast a spell and took this humongous snake out of the glass cage and left the boy locked in there. But the thing that got my attention, was when the snake was freed, it spoke to Harry and as its fork tongue shot out of its mouth, it said “thank you” to Harry Potter.
Yes, Satan is saying “THANK YOU” to J.K. Rowling and publisher’s Scholastic inc. for introducing witchcraft to millions of children all over the world.

This is ridiculous! Satan?? As I mentioned before, the books revolve around the themes of love, sacrifice and loyalty. Harry’s greatest weapon against Lord Voldemort, his arch-enemy, is that he can feel love. He knows its powers and does not underestimate it, unlike Voldemort. And according to popular belief, Satan sows the seeds of discord among people. How then can he spread his message through Harry Potter?