Babble Without a Pause

November 27, 2015

Of Intolerant Views On Intolerance

FULL DISCLOSURE – I am not a fan of celebrity culture, but make an exception for this man. In my opinion, he is an actor who treads off-the-beaten-path. Like his film roles, he is an unconventional celebrity, and embodies for the most part, a forward thinking mindset, one that I find myself aligned with. There are exceptions, most recently when he criticized the comedians operating a satirical Youtube channel titled AIB for their vulgar language, despite having himself acted in a handful of roles that involved crude language. Sometime between 2 and 3 years ago, Mr. Khan was the face of Satyameva Jayate, a national show that broke from traditional Indian talk shows with its hard-hitting analysis of issues plaguing our country. The toast of the nation back then, everyone crowed about how he was a rare celebrity with a conscience, seeking to do public good, by bringing to light the many issues plaguing the country.

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intolerance
“FUCK Aamir Khan, man” I overhear this afternoon, as I sit down to lunch at a restaurant some 12,000 km from Delhi.

If you haven’t heard the name Aamir Khan in conversations over the past two days, I have one question for you. That rock you’ve been living under, is it sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic? On a more serious note, in case you aren’t aware, the name belongs to an Indian citizen and prominent actor vilified by countless twitterati, blogophiles, and social media enthusiasts over the past two days for comments he made in an interview. Lest I be accused of not quoting accurately or misrepresenting context, here is that question, and his answer:

Anant: Aamir, are you agreeing with the protest (award wapsi, or the recent trend of Indian authors, artists and prominent figures returning awards previously handed out by the Indian govt) or do you think it’s uncalled for… do you think it is premature?

Aamir: Well, I think, if I am not mistaken there are so many people in this room who are much more knowledgeable than me so I am feeling intimidated to speak in front of all of you. But my understanding is that a lot of people from the creative fraternity are protesting because of the growing discomfort they felt or the growing atmosphere of intolerance that they felt around them… growing sense of insecurity and disappointment with that, and as a result that was their way of showing that they are not happy with the situation.

As an individual myself, as a part of the country, as a citizen, we read in newspapers what’s happening and certainly I have also been alarmed. I can’t deny that I am alarmed.. by a number of incidences. For any society it is very important to have a sense of security. I mean there will be acts of violence in world for different reasons. But for us as Indians, as a part of society to have a sense of security… two-three things are very important, I feel. One is sense of justice. If there is a wrong step that anyone takes, then a correct justice is what is required. Common man should feel that justice will be done. That’s what gives a sense of security. The second and very important sense of security is the people who are our elected representatives – people who we select to look after us for five years if at state level or Centre. When people take law in to their hands and when there is a sense of insecurity, we look upon these people to take a strong stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute cases. When we see it happening there is a sense of security but when we don’t see that happening there is a sense of insecurity. So it does not matter who the ruling party is. It’s happened across ages. On television debates, we see where one political party, in this case, the BJP which is ruling right now, is accused of various things. They said, ‘But what happened in 1984?’. But that doesn’t make right what’s happening now. What happened in ‘84 was disastrous and horrendous. At other times also, through ages, whenever there is a violent act, when an innocent person is killed, be it one or a large number, that’s very unfortunate. And these unfortunate moments are the ones when we look towards our leaders to take a strong step. Make statements that are reassuring to the citizens.
[….]
To complete my answer that there is a sense of fear more than there was earlier. I do feel there is a sense of insecurity. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran. (Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet… growing sense of despondency. You feel depressed, you feel low.. why is it happening? This feeling exists in me too.”

The tendency of people anywhere, to unite against outsiders, perceived or otherwise, is nothing uncommon. Its called xenophobia, and is as old as time. As recently as 2013, Aamir Khan was praised across large swathes of the Indian community, for lending his voice to a TV show that highlighted pressing social issues, in contrast with his peers who largely made commercial films that raked in crores of rupees, but stayed silent on most national issues of any significance. But all of those encomiums were heaped on the man and his body of work at a point in time, when India was under successive coalition governments. When he spoke out against issues the country faced, nobody so much as raised an objection to his comments, as they were perceived as being intended to improve our nation’s policies and practices to better the lives of its citizens. Medieval practices like female infanticide, or the caste system were considered fair game, and nobody batted an eyelid, everyone applauded along, and hit Like/Share/Comment. Now however, it’s a different story. Any time someone so much as mentions the government, or the prime minister in a negative light, you have these rabid fanboys (and girls) climbing over each other to heap scorn on you. Don’t believe me? Check out the comments board on any social media post criticizing the Modi/BJP government, and you will see what I mean. Aamir has learned that the hard way.

If Aamir Khan says he fears for his wife and son due to what he believes is rising intolerance in the country, pro-Hindu masses assume it MUST CERTAINLY be driven by anti-Hindu motives, because he’s Muslim. A friend said Aamir’s comments outraged him because (and I paraphrase) the common man would see/hear a big celebrity speak of growing intolerance which could stoke fears in the minority community, leading to communal violence. So the expectedly juvenile solution proposed by this fringe crowd borders on “this muslim guy doesn’t appreciate that we ‘tolerate’ him and his kind here. Maybe he thinks he will be better off in any one of ‘HIS’ countries, so let’s give him what he wants and send this S.O.B. across the border, to any of a dozen Islamic countries”. Or so goes the reasoning in BJP and vocally pro-Hindu segments, who have found popular mouthpieces lately in the forms of prominent figures like Subramanian Swamy, a member of the BJP. You see, unlike Aamir Khan, who voiced his opinion in response to a question asked in a public interview, instigators like Mr. Swamy stoke communal fears without even being asked. Ask yourself, of the two, whose words are more likely to fan flames of violence.

Yes, politicians pitting citizens against each other is a real thing. Has been, will be. The pattern certainly didn’t begin and end with the BJP coming to power. It is called vote bank politics in India, it’s called pandering in the US, and is known by various terms in various nations. The very notion of us-against-them is a time tested way to cut up a country into little parts, divide and conquer, until it is neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, friend against friend. I say this to clarify this is NOT a new phenomenon under the BJP, but has existed in previous Indian governments as well. Having said that, the sheer volume in such incendiary comments and commentary has ratcheted up, with the tacit approval of this government. And it hasn’t happened silently, secretly, or under the table, but fairly brazenly, by leaning on the RSS and other communal-based organizations for inputs on governance. Sample this: a year into its rule, the BJP government held behind-closed-doors meetings with its parent organization, the RSS. The official tagline for this 3-day meet was an ‘exchange of notes’. The prime minister himself attended and spoke at the event. How is any member of the religious majority, or anyone from the minority for that case, supposed to expect any measure of objectivity and even-handedness from a government that rather openly associates itself with a hardline right-wing group committed to an openly communal ideology. Why then is a citizen not entitled to a viewpoint that says that intolerance is on the rise. You see, communal incidents aren’t just restricted to a number, a statistic that goes up or down with each successive government. The same statistic that says communal incidents aren’t on the rise, could say the opposite a few months before. A government leaning on its parent organization for inputs on governance and policy, is no longer the government of all, but government of a few, as reflected in cabinet appointments of trusted RSS sevaks to key positions in education and other ministries.

But we are tolerant, you say. We are, yes, compared to several other countries out there, most of them theocracies who outlaw other faiths. But that is the DIFFERENCE. India is not a theocracy, has never been one, and hopefully never will be. So we can and should do better than those other nations. Abhorrence for the Congress model of pandering to minorities should not be used as a pretext to indulge in outrage against any vocal member of the minority demographic that the Congress sought to appease. Look at the comments board on almost any online media site, and you will see large portions of the majority Hindu population across the country expressing sentiments akin to saying out loud that their time has now come, and that it is time to set right the skewed prioritization of minorities which happened under the Congress watch while overlooking the majority . I’m certainly not talking hatred of non-Hindu populations bordering on violent intent, but more of a smug one-upsmanship level of glee that the government in power represents Hindu interests, and not “sickular” interests, a supposedly derogatory term for fake secularism as practiced by the previous ruling party at the center.

Rabindranath Tagore is the author of one of my favorite poems, “Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo” (loosely translated as ‘Where the mind is without fear’), a call to action in pre-independence India, that sounds like it was born from desperation. Had Tagore written this poem today, it is safe to say he would’ve been harassed on social media, his fans would have lined up outside his home to shout slogans about him being a “sickular” celebrity bent on weakening the multi-cultural fabric of the country. Except, there would have been no chants for him to be deported to the nearest Islamic nation. Consider the number of artists, meritorious citizens, scientists and others who chose to return awards and honors previously bestowed on them as a symbolic gesture (titled in the media as ‘Award wapsi‘) protesting growing intolerance and government silence in these cases. There were certainly Hindus in this group of silent activists. Yet, besides the expected disappointment expressed by some diehard fans of this government, there were certainly no ethnic slurs, abuses, or faux threats in their direction. Certainly, none of the Hindu participants were harassed to leave the country. If they were, I certainly didn’t hear it. Why is it then that Aamir is told to be grateful for the tolerance this country has shown him, and to be respectful for what “the country has made him”. Would such expectations be leveled against an Anupam Kher or any one of the multiple national award winners who returned awards bestowed on them by the government, who also happen to be Hindu, had they echoed similar sentiments under a Congress-led regime? What makes a Muslim any less of a citizen, or supposedly less entitled to an opinion than a Hindu citizen. There lies your answer.

humanity
You see, Khan being Muslim, or Kher being Hindu, is merely incidental to the fears and emotions they express. As a country, it is our duty to ensure that no citizen feels that way. It’s a lofty ideal, and one that we won’t ever solve in the near or even distant future. No country or civilization has, and we certainly aren’t going to be among the first. But it is an ideal that we must at least aspire to. Yet, because he belongs to a national minority, our basest instincts make his ethnicity the easiest to target, with comments such as these that have been doing the rounds on social media everywhere:

“My country is tolerant. Let’s see you find this level of tolerance anywhere in a theocracy like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia”.
“My country is tolerant, how dare you say it isn’t. Get on a train and get out, go back to Pakistan”.
“My country is tolerant, so what if ONE stray citizen was lynched a month ago for the contents of his plate”.
“My country is tolerant, so what if it really isn’t, the previous government was no better”.

In response to Aamir’s comments, taken out of context of course, have been two prominent viral posts doing the rounds. One is by a Sikh gentleman who speaks at length about how tolerant all of India has been to watch his movies, even the ones portraying Hindu gods in a negative light, and how if he had experienced intolerance all these years, even back in 1984, he never spoke up about it. The other, by a Muslim lady from Bangalore, a doctor who claims to never have faced discrimination or intolerance for as long as she can remember. To both these fine folks, I say I’m glad to hear that. But for every one citizen who hasn’t had to face intolerance, there are many more who have. So if expressing concern over the intolerance in the country is too sweeping a generalization to pardon, then so should attempts to brush every single instance of actual intolerance under the carpet by citing one person’s individual experiences.

Incidentally, today is the 26th of November 2015. On this night, 7 years ago, terrorists launched what was the largest coordinated attacks on Indian soil in a long while. In times of war as on that night, we band together, united under the flag of country. In times of peace, almost counter-intuitively, we challenge each other’s pride in country, patriotism, or religion. It’s almost like when there is no war, we seek out and set up reasons to wage ideological wars. Where terrorism is involved, it is clear that these incidents have nothing to do with religion. If they were, then terrorists would handpick and save their own, and kill only others. No, that isn’t the case. Muslims also died in the Mumbai terror attacks of  2008, because “religious” terror really has no religion. Communal violence and unrest, on the other hand, are instigated and perpetrated, strictly in the name of religion, or ethnic identity. And it is these communal incitement that needs to be carefully monitored, because as long as politicians are allowed to bait citizens, whether in India or elsewhere across the world, a nation’s people will fight outsiders in times of war, and fight each other in times of peace.

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February 4, 2011

Abbreviated

Life’s too short, we are told. With a world gone digital, and everyone online, it appears our vocabulary has shrunk to a handful of ridiculous acronyms to meet the need of the times. It seems like, almost overnight, we’ve been transported into an alternate universe when kids rattle off the exact specifications on a Wii or PS3 before they’ve even learned the ABC. Elementary school kids, barely out of diapers, are busy circulating the latest forwarded SMS, while their more illustrious seniors are busy doing the naughty on MMS (LOL!) A 6-year old who’s just graduated from potty training could put you to shame with his ability to rattle off the names of every character in every video game, from CoD to WoWAoE to GTA, GP4 to GT4. Every teen, tween, and pre-pubescent is going OMG at the latest Justin Bieber video. We’re obsessed with celebrities and their lives, who they did LSD with, or how many partners they’ve had SEX with (TMI!). In an always online world, everyone’s status line is habitually set to DND, and even if they do find the time to talk, they’ll always BRB because they’ve GTG. We all have varying degrees of ADD, switching between Facebook, Hulu, Youtube and ESPN while attempting to finish work due the next day, from within the confines of the same four mind-numbing walls of the same office cubicle. Every yuppie BSC and MBA aspirant is awake late at night, trying to ace one or all of the CETSATACTGRE, CAT, just so he can secure his ticket into the IIT or IIM of choice, ensuring his place as the newest FOB to fly BLR -> LHR -> JFK to take over as the CEO or CFO of a massive corporate empire like UPS or UBS, in a swank office overlooking NYC.

With IPL season 4 due to begin soon, it can only mean one thing; more ADD at the office, and even more OCD at home, characterized by family feuds for control of the TV remote, between equally passionate fans of the rival EPL and NBA leagues. When cricket isn’t on the tube, RAW is WAR. When neither of these is on, CSI rules primetime TV, I don’t know WTF for (SMH). If all else fails, it’s time to switch between CNNIBNABCBBCNBC and the slew of trusty 24-hour news channels that recycle and repackage the same combination of non-news ad naueseumIDK about you, but IMO the standard of television programming has plummeted depths heretofore unknown to the human civilization.

As a PPL, we have disturbingly low patience levels today. Every website has an FAQ page; every bank has an ATM, because everyone wants to get things done ASAP. We don’t have enough time to procreate the natural way, so we go in for IVF. We demand instant gratification, without any of the hassle or effort. Unable to cook at home, and unwilling to even try tossing a relatively healthy BLT on the BBQ, we buy dangerously toxic sludge ‘food’ (AKA ‘Happy’ meals, McNuggets, and Whoppers) from KFC and McD, and watch in surprise as we pack on the LBS. Too tired from the weight gain and premature onset of obesity, we barely have enough energy to WFH. Mechanics and garages are no longer open, because every Tom, Dick and Sally has a DIY kit from the ACE hardware store; but if you are unable to get past step 1 on the installation manual, good luck since the only thing you’ll reach if you call customer support is an IVR machine, or if you’re really lucky, an employee in a call center in BLR, who, even if he does an adequate job of helping with what you need, will get no more than a cursory grunt of acknowledgement. Lets face it, we’re in such a hurry, who has time to say things like THX, leave alone PLZ, SRY and ILU?

For a gadget to catch our attention, it has got to be flashy, sleek, fast, or all of the above. Your neighbour down the road just purchased the latest and greatest IBM, with the hottest RAM and superfast CPU, which means it’s definitely time for you to upgrade from your 20 year old computer running DOS so you can download pirated music from the best P2P service online. Your USP might be ESP, but today, nobody will even notice, since they’re busy on their PSP. Technology has empowered the common man beyond what anyone ever imagined. It’s fairly simple today to purchase a full-fledged SLR and all the snazzy equipment that comes with it, and begin snapping away as many JPGs as your gigantic memory card can hold, and JLT you’re a star photographer.In a digital world obsessed with computers, FUD is the order of the day. Y2K came and went at the turn of the millennium, yet none of us died. The CIAFBI and NSA would have you believe everyone who reads a koran is a terrorist, and do a fine job of trying to make you fear for your life everytime you walk down the street. Online, everyday is a never-ending saga of OWN or PWN, with some hacker breaking into and accessing unauthorized data. Any and every achievement, big or small, is trumped online as being FTW. Yes, seriously. WTF is FTW? Technology moves along at breakneck pace, best exemplified by antiques like STDISDFAX and PCO which have died a slow and painful death, leaving clueless phone booth operators in their wake, as every second techno-savvy teen whips out their shiny new HTC which claims to do everything short of actually substituting for toilet paper.

The economy today has been in a steady downward spiral for longer than we can remember. PSUs sink each day, and companies announce very public and very profitable IPOs to make hay while the sun shines. NGOs have mushroomed all over the place, almost like a rodent infestation. Each day the USD, the INR and the GBP wage a largely pointless battle for currency superiority. No matter what you purchase, big or small, whether it be a top-of-the-line DVD or VCD player, or a spanking new ZENKIAGMC, or a DIO, you have to think long and hard ABT your how much you’re willing to shell out on your EMI at the end of the month.

FYI, contrary to what you think, politics is no different in India than it is in the USA. There you have the INC fighting the BJP. Here you have the DEMs fighting the GOP. The same scumbag politicians are in it to win it; benefactors of kickbacks offered by powerful corporate lobby houses, from the NRA to AIG, LIC to ING. In 2001 Saddam was suspected to be hiding WMDs, the US government has long been suspected to be hiding UFOs,  and Chinese restaurants have long been blatantly loading MSG in their food. Sure, it tastes GR8, but apparently it’s bad for you (FML!).  At the EOD, maybe its time to sit down and face the harsh reality. Let’s say a quiet RIP for a world possessed of some sanity, which we lost ages ago. Maybe it’s time to send an SOS to our last hope for a solution, Santa Claus. NVM actually. Maybe some things aren’t meant to be fixed.

Hold on JAM. I gotta take this call.

“Hello …”

“Yes, speaking. Who’s this.”

“Jimmy who? Sorry? Jimmy Wales? ”

“Sincere thanks from the folks at Wikipedia for all the link-backs to your home page? Why, you’re most welcome. What’s that you say, 1000 unique hits in an hour? ”

GTG for now. BRB.

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This post is an obviously amateur, slightly comical take on the pervasiveness of acronyms and shorthand in the lexicon of present-day English usage all over the world. It is a humble tribute to the late legend, George Carlin, (inspired largely by THIS performance entitled ‘Modern Man’). Watching it, you can’t help but simultaneously be left in awe at the genius of this man, as well as be let down by the intellectually inferior fare you just read.

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