Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Last Pole

I stood upon the ruins of what was once a city;
Warsaw is nothing more than a mere wisp of a memory now,
As it was not, ever since they had arrived. 
I stared at what was once a home, that curiously belonged to me
As if such trifles mattered any more.

I stood upon the mounds of men,
Of what was once a living, breathing person and many, many more,
Now strewn away, frozen and stiff, 
And yet still hauntingly alive, 
Mocking the living, at the plight of life

I stood upon what was once a nation, 
As lands yielded to the greedy tentacles of flames infernal, of their device
As farms of fire spread their seeds,
As rains of fire drowned the ominous sound of a thousand bees
Bees that spit fire, and belched hate

I stood upon his gaze,
The hatred, cold and hard
I stood upon what was once me,
A haunting memory,
As I mocked, at the plight of their lives...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Beginning of the End

Of all the people with whom I share no sliver of convergence in lines of thought, except perhaps for this one, and yet have a great deal of respect for the views and ideas they posses, it is Arundhati Roy who crowns the jewel. Her recent article on the fires raging about the nation, while not agreeable in whole for me, is most thought provoking. There is a great deal of hullabaloo going on currently in the country, largely concerning a certain gentleman, who refuses to eat, ironically, in a bid to have his cake and eat it too. But stripped of all the embellishments and moral festoons adorning a largely non-glamorous core issue that the nation faces every day, one sees only a social malaise, a disease, a parasite hacking and gnawing the gut of the nation from the inside, the parasite of corruption.
Corruption is quite a pervasive issue in the country, so disturbingly so, that the Indian public have taken it for granted as a way of life. No one bats an eyelid when the civil servant sits behind his desk scratching his ears and grinning sheepishly, no one would bother obtaining licences and permits the old fashioned way, we now have agents, people with backhand connections willing to do our dirty jobs for us, we have driving schools that confidently aver that the people needn't learn driving, since all it takes are a few smiling faces of Gandhi to get a blind man his driving licence, or a building permit, or a liquor licence, the list would go on. We have successfully corporatised even corruption. And yet, no one has registered disagreement regarding this issue before, and somehow, suddenly, there is a section of society, calling itself 'Team Anna' demanding that the Government cease its corrupt activities at once.
The problem is, while Anna Hazare's intentions are, to the best of my knowledge, most veritably honourable, he seems to be guilty of over-simplification of the problem, not unlike his self appointed mentor, Gandhi. Mohandas Gandhi saw a problem as he perceived, proposed solutions to that problem and presented it to the extant keepers of order and expected them to endorse the proposal in full, no conditions applied, the terms being non-negotiable. If the keepers of order, in this case the Indian Colonial Government, saw differences with him, he would coldly announce that they shall face the repercussions. Anna Hazare has been doing more or less the same thing, employing the very device Gandhi employed when he opened the Pandora's Box, the Kryptonite of any Liberal Government, Satyagraha. Satyagraha is a form of protest most effective against a nation that rules by law, not by decree, because it is a form of protest that can cause massive upheaval in the existing fabric of order, with little or no laws bent or broken. While Satyagraha might have worked against British Imperialism (the jury's still out on that one, though, as to who really won Indian independence, Gandhi, Hitler or the anti-imperialist labour government headed by Clement Atlee) in a manner that is broadly construed as favourable to the national interest, Anna Hazare's Satyagraha seems as hollow as Bush's War on Terror. One simply cannot protest against corruption, or propose a solution that involves the imposition of draconian laws and legislations that will severely punish perpetrators accused of corruption. That would just imply that one treats the symptom and hopes that the issue would eventually dissipate. Moreover, such a police state is against the principles of a nation with a liberal democratic tradition.
Like Satyagraha itself, corruption manifests itself as a problem only due to the sheer scale of its proliferation. Individually considered, most corruption cases are minor infractions of the law, and yet it is a colossal cork on the nation's progress due to the sheer number of people causing the minor infraction of the law. Now, increasing the severity of the punishment for corruption would imply that a person was punished severely because, though the infraction was minor, it shall be considered as a severe offence because a lot of people are doing it. Such a system of penal code is inconsistent the principle of a liberal democratic nation which believes in reasonable doubt, an a priori assumption of innocence, and most importantly, punishing a person for the severity of the crime that must be regarded in isolation with all other cases and treated as an independent case, because one cannot simply punish a person severely because other people, no matter how many, have committed a similar offence in the past. Using punishment as a deterrent is a practice unworthy of this day and age, when people question the legitimacy of capital punishment.
Moreover, let us assume that the Lokpal does not include provisions for a stricter code of criminal law germane to corruption in public office alone, for its jurisdiction ends there, and still we are left with an agency that covers every single government officer from the lowliest clerk to the PM. From where will the human resources for such a massive organisation come? It is only natural to assume that they shall be handpicked by law enforcement veterans beyond reproach, and that they shall pick candidates of similar credentials. If the Lokpal provides for an agency that big and pervasive, it means the existing governmental structure is so corrupt that it requires an external watchdog to curb government servants from giving in to their baser temptations under the table. If the existing governmental structure is that corrupt, it simply cannot have as many 'clean' civil servants as this new agency requires. If it did, existing law-enforcement agencies could do the job. Moreover, if an external agency is simply going to do the job of CBI with a bit more powers, why not give those same powers to the CBI? Wouldn't it save the taxpayer the billions that Anna Hazare is trying to save from corrupt politicians? Besides what is the guarantee that this agency shall remain clean? Glossing over the naive idealism of Anna Hazare, similar to Gandhi and Nehru in many respects who believed independence would solve all the problems faced by India, an agency that has almost limitless powers over the Government adding to the fact that it shall consist of appointed officials, fashionably christened as 'Members of Civil Society of Eminence', a euphemism for Hazare sycophants, as opposed to democratically elected members is tantamount to declaring democracy as the root of corruption, and that draconian laws and procedures that control every facet of government is the answer. If this is how India is going to deal with its problems, it is beyond rational plausibility that India can get anything done right, with short-sighted and self appointed political messiahs mouthing the words 'Dharna' and 'Hartal' on their lips for every problem.
Let us, for a moment, set Hazare aside, and examine corruption itself. Corruption at high office is a direct consequence of corruption at lower levels. If a traffic policeman takes fifty rupees to permit someone to park as they please and gets away with it, the office pushes the limit of unacceptability of corrupt practice a little higher, and so on till the likes of Kalmadi and Raja open the floodgates into their own coffers. The root of the problem is that power corrupts, and moreover, corruption results when rules exist not only to facilitate ease of administration, but as a façade of impenetrable red-tape. Let us take an example of a simple case of illegal parking. Illegal parking would not be a problem, if legal parking was not an inconvenience, for a greater section of society indulges in the infraction of the law for the sake of convenience more than anything else. So, someone, say, A, would park right next to a dejected sign despondently reading "NO PARKING" for the sake of nobody, in exchange for a little favour to the local policeman on traffic duty. If lawful parking facilities were provided, such as public parking garages at strategic locations, this problem could be minimised. Moreover, one must bear in mind that, after all, as criminologists have been saying for ages, absolute power corrupts. As I read on a blog by Amit Verma, if a hundred and fifty civil servants and peons could manage to delay and derail any project quite simply by a simple act of withholding a dozen signatures, the government baabu who is aware of this fact is bound to take advantage of it. And if the Lokpal bill gets through, it only means another bunch of bribes added to the existing long list, for a simple construction project or a business licence. When power corrupts, the answer simply cannot be creating another structure of near omnipotence, the efficacy of which only relies on a billion hopes and prayers that it shall stay clean for the foreseeable future, in other words, till the next general election, after which a certain Thambi Hazare will demand a LokLokPal bill and this would arguably go on.
Therefore, what Anna Hazare is doing, while it might generate a strong consciousness among the people against corruption, is something that is most definitely going about in the wrong way, because the Government alone is not guilty of corruption, but every single one of us is. The reason his movement garners so much support, is because it is a morally unequivocal issue, something that can mobilise the public with the help of rhetoric and exhortation. All it takes for one to join this movement is a misplaced sense of righteous anger, the cloak of patriotism and the idea of 'If you're not with us, you are against us'. Moreover, it provides for a mule, a scapegoat, wherein, the cause of corruption not the Indian society, but the Government. He has masterfully created a target for public anger, when, ironically, every single one of us is guilty of corruption, however minor, at some time or another. Blind patriotism never achieved anything apart from the security one derives in being a part of a large group. Patriotism is merely the façade of a scoundrel or the refuge of a coward. It is an emotion, and nothing has been done right in the heated moment of emotions running rampant through the veins of the nation. Corruption is a social issue; it is vastly more complex than the requirement of a simple yet stern watchdog whipping government servants into shape. Corruption is said to be eradicated only when a Lokpal Bill is rendered irrelevant. By creating one, we perpetuate the culture of corruption, and the culture of a police state side by side, to keep the public under check. But unlike what Arundhati Roy said, this bill is not just anti-poor, it is anti-everybody. So the next time someone asks one to join the rally alongside Anna Hazare, please note that they are asking one to participate in the dangerous erosion of democracy, India's only asset so far.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Bring to peace the harrowed mind.
Set to rest the harried heart,
Become death, for all that come to be,
Must someday, come to cease.
Be the full stop, to all sentences.
Be the happily ever after of real life.
There may be nought beyond, I may never know,
But there was a lot before, or I wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t cease to be.
Be the escape, some crave, some yearn.
Give unto them, sweet release,
From temporal realms, the carnal prison;
Let escape the bounds of life,
Let fly free from one’s own clutches.
Let go.
Be the sweet release – of death
Be your soul, be its freedom,
For life is most at the end of its tether
Your heart palpitates, your breath stops,
Yet you are alive, for you are free.
Fly from this empty rock, the ground of life.
Soar above the empty cage.
Let pass, let see what is beyond,
Cross Styx, fall unto Hades’ arms
Upon his cold bosom.
Set free. Extinguish the flame.
For there may be clouds above, yet it is the sky.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The G6 of Literature

In tune with my literary listings, I now plan to explore the other end of the spectrum, the best of them all, at least according to me. One might agree with me or not, if one doesn't I'll probably like you even more because I can have an interesting debate on the topic and also, "I'M RIGHT, YOU'RE WRONG, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!!!"
So, here are a few authors who I think are one of the best at what they do best.

  1. William Shakespeare: Although many a high school student has fervently wished upon this gentleman a great deal of ills, he remains the king of playwrights, for nearly half a millennium, a no mean feat. William Shakespeare had this uncanny knack of telling stories that had a bit of everything in it, and as far as documentation of thereof is concerned, he seems to be the first one to do so. His plays are beautifully crafted masterpieces, his characters as living and breathing as you and me. After all, who can forget Shylock or Hamlet or Lady Macbeth? He always portrayed society as it was, be it the vehemently anti-semitic Venice and it's bourgeois or the wavering illiterate masses of the Roman Republic. He was a master of human psychology; his characters responded to real situations like real people, with raw and fundamental emotions acting as their only impetus. It was this fundamental soup of human emotions that make his characters timeless. Anthony would have done the same thing if Caesar was assassinated in the 21st century. Lady Macbeth would have goaded her husband into such heinous crimes at any point in history because they responded to basic emotions that never change. His plots may be simple enough to be portrayed on a stage, but one must notice that complexity of his plots do not arise from grandiose settings or vast arrays of characters, but play out as intense battles inside every character of his. Apart from these, his language is probably the apogee of Early Modern English, his puns and metaphors ring in our ears to this day.
  2. Charles Dickens: Another master storyteller, he weaves magic with his words. An astute observer, he brings to life his characters based on real-life experiences, whose realism gets poignantly reflected in his works. He was a brooding recluse, whose only effective channel of communication was his ink stained pen and coarse paper. Known for bringing to life cities and countries with mere adjectives, he is probably most famous for his smoggy London and the East End. His works reflect his sense of strong Christian morality, and in the process help bring about a keener understanding of the poor and downtrodden in an era where only the lofty aristocrats and wealthy industrialists occupied the popular imagination. There is beauty in every word of his, his stories crafted to perfection and the words flow as eloquently as the sound of a babbling brook. His characters, again, have endured the onslaught of time upon our imaginations, with Oliver Twist and Philip Pirrip tenaciously gripping a part of our hearts reserved for such masterful machinations.
  3. Agatha Christie: She is the undisputed queen of crime. Her lovable Poirot is the grandfather I never had, clumsily endearing, but keen as flint. He is all I hold dear in a character, he is vain, but lovably so, he's a genius at what he does best and is simply adorable. Miss Marple, on the other hand is a quaint Englishwoman, a complete antithesis of Poirot's flamboyance. She is the stolid and respectable spinster with a mind sharper than her knitting needle. Both characters, with a host of others that come and go are a deep treatise on human nature. They are subtle, crafty and purely ingenious, nearly as much as their creator herself. Her plots are shrouded in thick mystery, opening up in slices invisible to the naked eye, until the end when one realises that the clues were pointing in a direction that was glaringly obvious in retrospect. Her books are the best source of dopamine induced highs.
  4. PG Wodehouse: You can't say his name without giggling a little. He makes everything funny, so much so that when one reads his books, one must keep first aid handy enough lest one cracks one's ribs. Delightfully hilarious, his books transport the reader to an entirely different world; a world of corrosive aunts, bumbling uncles, crafty fiancées and the hapless protagonist who knows he's a bit of an ass but hopes you wouldn't mind. His world is a cosy retreat from the day-to-day drudgery, a freshly mown lawn with drops of softly scented dew shimmering on a spring morning in the midst of the desert of real life. His characters, though formulaic, are delightfully lovable, the most endearing caricature of human society yet. His plot twists and narrative leaves the reader gasping for air, before which the next line comes along with a funnier anecdote or simile. His language and writing style is an asset to English itself, trapping all his good humour and zest for life within a few pages. If one hasn't read Wodehouse, one hasn't led a happy life.
  5. JRR Tolkien: The indubitable lord of fantasy, Tolkien has brought incalculable happiness to bespectacled nerds and dragon lovers across the world's basements. He is the father of imagination, weaving whole new worlds as complex and complete as our own with a mere stroke of his pen. The level of detail and authenticity he brings about in his narrative is simply mindboggling, the little poems he inserts in between, more than adorable. Even though his characters are idealised exaggerations, his work has the epic quality only found in mythical texts, a feat not easy to achieve. His plot is gripping and intense, the words that describe them being as heated and fiery as the bowels of Mordor. As I always say, a passage written in good English when read out loud makes my mouth water, brings a fullness to the tongue, and The Lord of the Rings makes me drool incessantly.
  6. Mark Twain: As I have come to notice, he is the only American in this list. Mark Twain, unlike the others on this list, consciously made an effort to write for a simpler man. His books had no lofty pretensions, no flowery indulgences with the finer aspects of the language, just merely a narrative, a simple but colourful narrative, but with equally powerful characters. Who can forget Tom Sawyer or Aunt Polly? He captured the essence of the simple life in America, he brought about a shift in the paradigm, wherein literature now appealed to a poorer section of society, not because he pandered to their baser sensibilities, but was because here was an author who portrayed a world even they understood. His work had an innocence and a childlike quality about them that made them intensely lovable. They were a genuine expression of his interpretation of American society, a world of simple people, hard-working and upright.