Monday, March 9

Political systems, II.

Jiwei Ci in his book Moral China in the Age of Reform talks about two different strategies followed by human beings to acquire agency: agency-through-identification and agency-through-freedom. The latter is the method of choice in modern (liberal) democracies, while the former is found in traditional Eastern societies such as China and India as well as in Maoist China. To understand a people and their politics, and, more, the differences between the East and the West, I believe that understanding well these two concepts is important, hence this post about these two strategies.

The strategy of agency-through-identification is about identifying yourself with someone (else): this belief gives you the feeling of a free agent and the power to do things what you would interpret as in accordance with whom or what you believe in. The constraint is a prerequisite of belief; thereafter, the interpretation may be left to you, making you feel an agent, controlling your own subjectivity, thus giving you a sense of power, a freedom. This freedom may be illusory or manipulated, but you may never realise it as long as you are a believer. The range of actions for a believer are manifold: he or she may interpret it even to kill others or to do other things which otherwise would be socially sanctioned; as long as you identify with the someone else, you have a wide range of actions available. (You would normally be conditioned to not think of this constraint at all; identifying with that someone else would never come into question.) Traditional India with its caste system (especially when fluid) is one such example of this system: once you believe in the fate, you do not question your assigned status and role, and having accepted that, you could reinterpret your role as much as you would like, even crossing to other statuses, all within the belief system. It is like coming to a game of cards on a table: you may believe yourself and others to be the cardmakers as well as cardplayers, and you wouldn't be surprised to see a fifth ace of the same colour, since the cardmaker could of course make new cards on the fly as long as he or she does not question others' cards and cardmakings. The freedom seems unlimited once you have believed in a role, identified with being a cardmaker or a cardplayer. The creative drama at play even stimulates you to conceive of and add new suits on the fly.

The strategy of agency-through-freedom is about the freedom to choose from a given set of possibilities identified as legal for you by the society: this gives you the illusion that you have the freedom to do what you wish, even though it would only be from a socially sanctioned set. You can mix and match the sanctioned possibilities, thus playing with identifications to a certain extent, but can never go out of them. The constraint thus is the lack of creativity: they set the dance moves allowed, though their sequence you are free to readjust. (You would normally be conditioned to not think of this constraint at all: that any other dance move is possible would never come to your mind.) Modern (liberal) democracies are one such example of the system, and this traces its origins to the importance of a contract in Western societies (for the Word has held immense importance in Biblical societies). (The Western societies of old have already been evolving to this point for many centuries, especially since the rise of Protestantism.) It is like coming to a game of cards on a table: there is only a fixed number and variety of cards, and you can only play with those cards, though of course you could make any move with those cards. You are only a cardplayer, not a cardmaker. The freedom seems unlimited once you are happy with those cards and like the order of it all. It even stimulates you for greater cunning to either circumvent the rules or best your opponent's way of thinking.

Imagine now the collision that must have happened when the West met the East: whether in India, China or Japan. The Indians were adding aces and even suits on the fly; the Westerners were aghast, finding it cheating or even, worse, savagery, finding the East as uncivilised; they wanted the contracts of cards, suits, rounds, everything fixed. They wanted to "reform" the Easterners. Some of the Easterners did get educated or were educated ("enlightened" or "reformed") in the Western ways, and then, naturally, a confusion arose in Eastern societies, notably in India, colonised by the British and taught many British ways. The presence or absence of contract was seen and felt by some: it was cheating for some, it was creativeness for others. A modern democracy (with two marketplaces of intellectual and ideological being open) was chosen as the way to go by India, thus a contract-respecting society, and in 1990 the liberalisation was complete with the opening up of the economic marketplace as well: however, it is not that India's nature itself of being a creative society changed with this political structural change. Hence, a new set of knaves, India's present-day political leaders, arose from this pell-mell: they saw a golden chance of appropriating power through exploiting this confusion. They could make cards on the fly using the first method and playing the cardmaker, and then say these are the only cards to play and new ones are not permitted, using the second method: in this way, you surreptitiously use the social acceptance (in an Eastern society) of the first method (agency-as-identification), and then exclude all other cards, all creativity in favour of only your cards using the second method (agency-as-freedom) using the tools of a society in Westernization: in this way, you hijack the agency of those others who until now were also cardmakers. (As a more specific instance, you pretend to be dharmic or national, for remember that identification is the form of agency as society's nature has not changed, then introduce your cards in the play as now a valid cardmaker, now start claiming that there could only be fixed cards and that anyone introducing their cards is against dharma or nation, which argument seems very plausible, even cogent, as after all the norms of the state are now of having a particular set and playing by that, and then you start excluding the possibility of introducing other cards by others; and this process could keep going on, thus a single player designing the set in their way completely, not letting others having their cards in the game. This disgruntles both those who expect contracts to be the be-all as the opportunist is continuously changing cards by reinforcing identification as strategy, and those who adhere to the identity but because their cards are at the mercy of the opportunist, are unable to play any longer. Eventually, the tension can only build up, and inevitably it results in a shattering of the tension through violent means.) You have now an added advantage against those whose agency you are hijacking: some of them still playing the old game, they are trying to act as cardmakers and not questioning your cardmakings, without realising that you are on the side playing a parallel process of discarding some cards (their cards) for ever from the game. By the late time they realise it, your cards are dominant in the game, for remember that in any game a card carries a certain different value than others. (In any society, some things are valued and some are not: those things may well be different in different societies, but a value attribution is inevitably there in any human society, plus an absence of attribution itself for whatever is not on a society's horizon.)

I will continue.

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Friday, March 6

Political systems, I.

With the rise of technologies, the model of representative democracies is getting broken and exposed, and it is no wonder that knaves, whose knavery democracies are designed to protect from, are finding enough loopholes to overrun them. It is hence that I open a series of posts intended to look at the systems themselves, in order to understand them well, before we can think of something new. My focus eventually will be primarily on India, which is going through a crisis of governance, a crisis that is rooted in what I see as an incompatible system with its traditional ethos and now being milked by the thugs that know how to take advantage of it. I will also focus, secondarily, on China, which I estimate is slowly reaching a critical turning point (which may yet take a decade or more to materialise).

Let's talk about democracy per se. The original democracies of Greece were a completely different proposition than today's representative democracies. The most important distinction is that in a direct democracy such as Greece, everyone had a skin in the game: so you do not want war sitting from your drawing rooms just like that, for it is you or your son who would be out on the battlefield. Today, in countries such as Switzerland, there are referendums on big and small topics, so there is some element of directness, but there is still no skin in the game: people may vote for something even though they do not suffer necessarily the consequences of it (or so they think). Direct democracies have the obvious fault that they are unwieldy to manage. With today's technology, that shouldn't be a problem, but how to ensure that everyone has a skin in the game? It might be possible in some creative ways if a place were to have more or less equal access to resources (education, health, security, infrastructure), but in most countries of the world, there is too much of an inequality in access to resources.

Let's talk about the modern type of democracy: representative democracy. Here, a person is supposed to represent the wills of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. In a way, the small currencies, the individual wills, are "demonetised" (taking the expression from a 2016 Indian disaster): it's the big note, the representative, that counts and has a disproportional power. Now to cut down the powers to some proportionality, a variety of checks and balances are introduced. These checks and balances, crucial in any democracy, whether direct or representative, but even more so in a representative democracy on account of a de facto voicelessness of the small currencies, basically come from the very Christian, pessimistic view of human nature: the original sin. Since all human beings are considered in Christianity as inherently fallible and sinful, it is important to keep a check on them: thus a system of governance has to attempt to not to give too much power to anyone, and hence an elaborate system of checks and balances, especially more so when a representative system actually does give more power to certain individuals. (Of course, Greece was pre-Christian, but having your own skin in the game was in itself a strong check and balance. The Greek city-states were more, politically speaking, a kind of "tribe", which obviously has all its privileged members sharing all the smooth and the rough, but with the sophistication of a state.) The Christian-inspired model assumes that it is knaves, fools, the greedy, the imperfect who will be governing a country along with some better informed, who may also fall to greed or foolishness any time: a democracy assumes in advance man's readiness to make a contract with the Devil, operates from a complete lack of trust and hence introduces elaborate checks to thwart the contract's implementation. This model worked tolerably well until information technology exploded: the checks and stalemates are too rusted to work against today's technology, which keeps on advancing day by day. (Just imagine when deepfakes become commonplace! We will need to change the term to "disinformation technology.") In first-past-the-post electoral democracies, the problem was always bad: a person chosen by 25 people out of 100 might still be considered to be representing 100, thus not only making 75 voiceless but even maimed. (That calls for another thinking about electoral systems of such countries: should the win in an election be based on first-past-the-post overall as well as at least 50% votes of each significant minority; or should it be a proportional system as in Scandinavia; and so on, but that merits a volume of discussion on its own backed by several statistical inputs.)

An autocracy of course works in a very different way, whether it be the enlightened king, a set of technocrats or an all-knowing party assumed to be wise (like the CCP in China). Eastern societies such as China and India have had the dominant thought of "good" (li or dharm) as being the most important yardstick and maintaining of which is the most important goal. Human beings are not considered fallible but rather considered to have the potential to reach the dao or brahm, the Ultimate Reality: it is not considered impossible to attain harmony in human societies; Ram rajya is not just a myth, but a striving, a goal. China has thus not adopted a system designed for knaves (democracy), but rather a system designed for a set of wise leaders and gurus guiding the country to the goal of a harmonious, stable and prosperous society. Of course, in doing so, through this optimism, the power placed in the hands of its leaders is near absolute, which is very much prone to misuse: for it is one thing to hope that power is being placed in the hands of the wise, but another thing to find that it is knaves who now possess an inordinate power. A preventative could have been a very strong, healthy, debating democracy among the learned, the guiding class (the CCP in the case of China), but the circumstances of modern China's birth and Mao's ruthless consolidation of power after that put paid to that. In ancient India, the learned (the Brahmins) could have taken the power in their hands rather than left it to the kings and created such a society, but that didn't happen for whatever reason, and we were left with the Brahmins rather trying to consolidate their power relative to other segments of Indian population (e.g., via casteism). Modern India is not even in alignment with its traditional thought: it has adopted the Christian fallibility-inspired representative democracy as its political system, and yet living by and large with the Eastern optimistic ethos of aiming for the Ultimate. Thus, India currently lives permanently in a state of schizophrenia, and new tools of information technology are only bringing out the disease so far hidden out of sight. For China, instead of the schizophrenia, it is an alienation that is getting ever more stronger. The sight of the "good", of the dao is now lost with the CCP leaders only interested in a power grab, and thus the CCP exists now merely to ensure the opium of money and a hedonistic lifestyle, which means that many people have started to live in a moral vacuum, not knowing how to find meaning in their lives, not knowing how to express themselves. Meaning-making is essential for a human being to live, for without it we would be merely sated beasts: in schizophrenia, the condition which India finds itself in, you are taught to interpret something in some other way than what you internally experience it, and hence you realise the meaninglessness of the meaningfulness of meanings, and thus a horror is born within the soul; in alienation, the condition which China finds itself in, you learn the meaninglessness of meanings, and thus an intense desolation is born within the soul.

I will continue in future posts.

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Wednesday, June 12

न कोई है

क्या बिस्मिल की कटोरी में
खोया है चाँद आज,
आसमाँ को तनहा कर
गिर आया है धुआँ-धुआँ;
मस्त नदी न जानती, न सुनती
जैसे हातीमों के हाथ न रुकते, न जानते,
तूफ़ां में फंसा बेबस बर्क़-ज़दा, इसी आस में
कि कोई अजान गंगा में चराग़ छोड़ेगा |


Friday, May 24

अल्लाह, करम करना

किसी ने कहा था, आज बारिश पड़ेगी |

वहां ईंट के बने खंडहर में
मैं इंतज़ार कर रहा हूँ,
जब कि बाहर कुछ जलने की बू आ रही है,
शायद दूध, शायद ख़ून |

तू बोलता,
चल यार, आईस-क्रीम खाने चलते हैं,
ताला टुटा हुआ है, फ्रीज खुला पड़ा है, मौक़ा अच्छा है -
पर तू होता तो घर भी तो जाते |

कब तक खड़ा रहूं, क्या मालूम?
कब आएगी रात
जब जश्नीयों की विकृत भंगिमा
कर देगी ग़ुम हँसी का तबादला ?

धर्म मेरा, राह देखना
कि अय्याश ईंटों से सर पीट-पीट कर परास्त हों;
इमां मेरा, ढेर हुओं को संजीवनी लाना
कि रात का ख़ौफ़ न बन जाए मेरा साक़ी |

किसी ने कहा था, सवेरा हो ही जाता है |

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Saturday, August 25

Clouded in

Ruddy faces, gossip, ale or mead, stormy night: content, complacency, a chuckle of delight and suspense, spice of fear, mud clinging without, thunder beating around brick mansions, trellising ivy. Content or complacency? One is begotten from hard work or easy conscience, the other begets idleness and uneasy conscience. Which one do the listeners to the fireplace tales carry in their breasts? How do they sleep and on what their dreams grist and glisten?

Tomorrow, the clouds will roll away, buds will burst forth from the earth, and no one to toil them, nor to gather their embrace. For here, now, in the black night, that night so well and so profusely punctuated by electric strikes, in that fathomless pit, which farmer and baker both dread, the peeping faces from hanging pots, from rough wooden beams, from every thud of an empty tankard waiting to be filled, all those hideous and angelic faces peer at you and grow within you, as rain and fog smuggle to your soul though you may well believe yourself well sheltered.

There is no song, nor battlecry, nor revelry even. There is but the tale, told in a crackling voice, with gasps of those who listen as rejoinders, and an occasional "Eh?", a "Say you so?", a perfunctory call for a drink more, a distrustfully friendly nudge to your nervous neighbour. The old man in the centre keeps spinning, prolonging for not mere better effect, but his own better enjoyment. His is not the 15 seconds of fame, but of every such night when they demand him, and those others when they recall those words even if far away from his yarn. Yes, for that is how intelligence gleams, first in shadowed tapestries, gleaming in chinks, not as splendid suns of the glorious blue sky. But then, it is up to each man, what path he chooses: content or complacency?

The old man will keep going.

(inspired by Dickens)

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Friday, June 15


शेष की फुंकार में
बरामद हुई रोशनी कितनी?
मुझे तो न मिली, न दिखी,
न मसले चंपा की महक
न ही तेरे नैन की मस्ती,
न ही क्षीर में बँटने वाला अमृत|

तो मिला क्या? कुछ सही तो?
सौंधी मिट्टी की धसक से
जब अपनी ऐनक पोंछी
तो पाया नया उजाला,
किसी आदित्य का नहीं, किसी ग्रहण का नहीं,
पर सिर्फ किसी सिमटी, खोई, त्यागी मशाल का,
न जाने किस ब्रह्म-अस्तित्व से जल रही थी, किस के इंतज़ार में;

जब पूँछा,
तब आया जवाब पेड़ों को कंघी करते
विश्व को लपेटे शरारत भरे अँधेरे से|
तब मालूम चला
पालन-हार दीप का,
हर द्वारे, हर दिल में,
है कोई दहशत, कोई सन्नाटा:
किलकारी भंग करे खामोशी को
ब्रह्म को जगा, शिव को पार्वती से जुदा करे,
बैराग में से निकलें अंकुर,
अन्धकार को फिर प्राप्त करने की चेष्टा से जियें
रोशनी के पुषित वे अमर द्रोही|


Wednesday, November 22

Ashes 2017-2018: Preview

And so, after a glut of 3 series within 2 years and then some calm period, a new Ashes has come: the time when Trott and Swanny broke down, when Johnson blew Cook's defences away, that time seems far, far away, though Australia retain wicket-targeting weapons in Starc and Cummins. Though Australia do start as favourites, including in my books, especially if Stokes continues to be unavailable, it is still a difficult Ashes to call. I reckon that this English side's best chance would be the Gabba itself, which is an unusual feeling to have given Gabba's history, and if England start well, that would make the series very interesting. Adelaide and Perth would be good chances for Australia, though Adelaide being a day-nighter, it will be also down to twilight luck. It's difficult to call Melbourne, while Sydney may be a high-scoring draw or an Australia win. My punt is on Australia winning 3-1 or 4-0 the five-match series, but that's a very uncertain punt, and that's also based on current squads (including the fact that Stokes is absent). Australia do need to retain Starc and Cummins fresh and bowling, and Warner injury-free: as for England, they need Root and Bairstow to be injury-free, but otherwise no one is indispensable, not even Cook, in these conditions. Overall, I think, fielding will be the key to this series: if England hold on to all holdable chances that come their way and grab a couple of spectacular ones, then it could be England 3-1! Well, let's get down to the squads then!

While I said just now that Cook is not indispensable, he could make himself so, though: the English side would rely heavily on their opening partnership of Cook and Stoneman. If Cook is in form, England will certainly win or draw: whatever else happens. However, Cook to me lately has not been looking in great nick, so my hopes of a good return have dwindled down. I do hope that Cooky would prove me wrong and have another season like the 2010-2011 one: even a season close to that one would suffice! On the other hand, I do have good hopes from Stoneman, who has not so far distinguished himself much in his England career. Not in the same mould maybe as Cook, I still think his game is well suited to Australia. I am not so sure about Vince: I think Vince a likely candidate for getting out early enough with the modes of dismissal being caught-and-bowled, lbw, and caught at short mid-off or cover. If Hameed were available, I would put him there, but I would now go with Root at 3, though he doesn't seem to prefer it. Or Moeen. In any case, I would not select Vince, even though in this squad, I think, Malan is worse than Vince as a batsman. Yet, Malan might, given luck and if previous batsmen have batted well enough, still get along, given his propensity for attacking shots, which are not that bad an option in Australian conditions (if the Ashes were happening in England, I would say, you could still retain Vince, but not Malan). So, in this team (given the current squad), I would pick either Ballance or Ben Foakes instead of Vince (or both Ballance and Foakes instead of Vince and Malan): I would not ask any of them to bat at 3, though. As for the English bowling attack, I am happy with Anderson, Broad and Ball, but I don't know if selecting both Anderson and Woakes in Australian conditions is wise enough: the attack becomes too unidimensional then. However, since Mark Wood is not in the squad, and Finn also is now out, with only the raw Overton and a promising all-rounder Tom Curran in the ranks, not much is left to choose from, so one can leave as is for the Gabba Test and see how everyone performed. If Anderson bowls well and Woakes does not do enough, I would certainly like to see Curran or Overton in place of Woakes. If one were to look at the Lions squad, which might come in handy later on, though I have not seen all of them, one name that does interest me there is Ben Duckett. The man was miserable against spin, but Lyon, though a decent spinner he is, is of a different type than the ones who terrorised him: in that case, Duckett could be a good bet. He is attacking and can take the game away in a jiffy: if Stokes is not there, one does need someone to do that.

Let's get to the Aussie squad then for the first 2 matches, which has generated a lot of controversy. I like their bowling attack a lot: Starc and Cummins are very good fast bowlers, and Hazlewood and Lyon are able support. If all four of them can remain fit throughout the series, in particular Starc, Cummins and Lyon, then it will be hard for England to take the series. The problem, though, is Australia's inconsistent batting, which consists of some who should not be there. Like the no. 3 Usman Khawaja. He may or may not make runs, but he is not Test material, and certainly not no. 3 material: he is not tough for that. Then there is the captain, Steve Smith: he is in form for a couple of years and more now, incredible really considering that he never seemed such a good batsman. He still does not: one always feels that a wretched season is about to begin for him, for his technique looks awful. His hand-eye coordination might save him often, and this time too as England does not have any very good bowlers in these conditions, but I for one do not repose confidence in him. My confidence is only in Warner, who has matured considerably in recent times and has started to be more than a mere slapdash batsman. He plays proper cricket now, long innings, and can play both defense and offense these days. Warner would be the no. 1 thorn in the flesh for England. I do not know much about the guy to open with him, Bancroft, but I am sad to see Renshaw being dropped: I think he was quite good, and would have been good here as well. Shaun Marsh is a good bat, and might do well in the series: he has to keep his mental toughness going, for that is where he sometimes lacks. I do not rate Maxwell highly, but against England, with no bowlers who are going to blow you away except Broad in some spells, I don't see why not to play Maxwell: he can take the game away fast. I don't know much again about Handscomb, so let's see how that goes. As for their wicketkeeper, I don't see a lot of difference between Paine, Nevill and Wade: I am OK with Paine, as I recall him as a good, fighting cricketer. I also would have dropped Wade for either Paine or Nevill. The more important thing is that there might be a bit of confusion and sore feelings about the squad because of shock selections: if England can boss the first game, or even just win it, then that could make it a festering issue, especially if Smith is found out a bit. If Australia win, especially if that is commandingly, then those things will be forgotten about and papered over. And, hence, England's best chance is the 1st Test, at the Gabba, the ground where it seems to be too difficult to beat Australia. What England have in their favour is that some of their young players should not be awed by the Gabba and Aussie crowds: some of them, like Stoneman, have spent quite a lot of time here. That's a significant advantage in conditions like Australia and the Indian subcontinent: many lose or break down because they are too spooked or awed by being so far from their comfort zone.

Well, then, I hope that the series is played in good and competitive spirit, and no one gets injured, so one can have the pleasure of a contest at full tilt. Root's captaincy, which was very poor this summer, will be a concern for me, but I hope at least he learns on the job and is smarter by the time England travel to the subcontinent (where captaincy skills are very crucial). The series might be fun to watch as it's hard to call. I dream that Cook will again make a mountain of runs. That will be my reward, irrespective of which team lifts the series.

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Thursday, September 7

À bout de souffle

I sometimes rail against what I perceive as the egocentrism of modern-day academic world; I am then often reminded by others that I am being uncharitable, that the academic person is also human. I agree with that: I do not rail anyway against a person, only his or her action. But then, in a world where everything is personified, actions by themselves are hard to judge for many. I am exhorted even to feel repentant, which I sometimes do, when I feel if I got carried too far away in my vehemence. But then, when one comes across such an interview as given on this page, it takes my breath away by the sheer falsehood on which academic world tries to stand. It is interesting that the person interviewed talks about insecurity among teachers who teach a language but are not the native speakers of that language, and yet, at the same time, she also shows her insecurity about her complete being, by following the usual going-over-ground technique drilled into many a European researcher.

I was once told by a researcher that to be considered with any degree of seriousness, I must cite and cite and cite: go over what all has been already done by whom and when and where, and then proceed to the matter at hand (again, keeping on citing). A careful construction, that is born organically from the Western conception of history, and, further deeper, of time. To add to that, a third party (here the interviewee itself) tells you who the person "showcased" is: no, not her smile or diffidence, not her bolting energy or dreams unfulfilled, but a listing of her memberships, professorships, publications, and medals. The buttress of all these achievements then tells the audience that ok, this person is worth listening to: otherwise, why waste time on listening to someone in this world, when anyway there potentially is a crowd of things to attend to? Interestingly, the same Europe poses itself as liberal: meaning that it portrays itself as not caring about hierarchy and other privileges. And yet, it is in Europe that all kinds of credit matter the most: and hence, finally, the academic ends up fulfilling and enacting a mere role. This again is not unexpected: after all, morality and religion got divided when secularism made its advent in Europe. But, to go deeper, in fact, the idea of secularism (the Western concept of secularism, that is) is itself present in Catholicism: confess your sins to the priest, and then you are free. Man was thus already able to separate the ignoble from his or her being, and then it was but a mere one step to the modern world, where everything has become a role. So, without any pangs of conscience, in fact with pride and arrogance, or even conceit, you do one thing and you are another things.


Tuesday, August 15

Un monde de tous, sauf ...

Dans le petit monde
habitent où des moineaux,
s’enveniment sans cesse
de la cause-conséquence-

il arrive, traverse, erre, monte
un aigle, empereur débonnaire,
l’objet du regard intense, puis jaloux :

là, quand le frappe la foudre,
bien visibles les retentissements du roi tombant,
jaillit une admiration parfaite;

c’est un cri de soulagement,
de tout ceux qui s’aiment de mieux en mieux,
plutôt que le ciel
qu'on ne toutefois regarde plus.

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Wednesday, June 14

The Baahubalian India of today

Knowing the success of Baahubali franchise pains me on many counts; the first of those are cinematic ones. It is difficult to digest that such a poor work can work so well, and, by power of money and regional-national feelings, even lead to some critics praising it; it is far more painful, though, to gauge the future trend of Indian cinema. Special effects sounded the death knell of much of U.S. cinema, especially the big studio Hollywood fare; while Europe has escaped largely unscathed from such temptation, India may not. Already, many Hollywood films are made keeping the China market in mind: which means Hollywood stars, special effects, and brand (franchise) name. A film may even bomb badly at the U.S. box office, but it may try to recoup costs in China, as is happening right now with the new The Mummy. More China specifics even cast an actor from there or set the film there: like the recent The Great Wall. India also will increasingly eye the China pie: with Dangal's success there and the recent casting of a minor Chinese actress in a big-budget, mainstream Hindi film (Tubelight) coming in as handy prompts. While quite a lot of good cinema in China has already died, which continues to make some fine indie films though in the additional backdrop of heavy state censorship, there has been no mourning but simply an obsession with brands, and thus Hollywood cinema; it also signifies the trend that much of Indian cinema will pick up: big, IPL-like tamasha. However, Baahubali also well reflects today's India, and it is no wonder that the film has been so successful. It is today's India that is painful to see, and yet one can only hope that a newly independent land is going through some growing pangs: but, have we seized (any) liberty?

Baahubali furthers the confusion between nation and state, and, even more remarkably, between a kingdom and nation-state: the denizens of the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati even have a national anthem, and everyone good has the "Jai Mahishmati" slogan. It is extremely problematic when kingdoms are painted by the same brush as today's nation-states, when a kingdom's subjects are portrayed as citizens (are they voting?) taking interest in the welfare of the state (oops, kingdom). It is even more problematic when one person takes up the role of messiah, and the rest of the "citizens" are shown as just looking up to him: so much like helpless puppies, as if they were born without an iota of brains. (Watch the scene in Baahubali 2 when the hero is making some fantastic gearings, though Charlie's Chocolate Factory could have done them better.) Baahubali, in fact, is quasi-identified with God himself: from the first part, when he lifts the lingam, through the continued frenzied adoration, to his non-stop exploits of stopping man, beast and armies in their tracks, single-handedly (after all, his name means "the one with strong arms"). A "state" with a leader worshipped like God, who is in fact God and supreme: to self-identify with either Baahubali or the gaping, adoring crowds is but one small step for many Indians, belabouring under grandiose visions of recapturing some glory, that in their imagination is lost and that though in reality may never have existed. For glory lies always in not being conscious of one's gloriousness: the Middle Kingdom (China) was great as long as it conceived itself as the Middle and be-all; today's China, even if it expands and usurps many seas, would not be able to lay claim to that. The U.S., which also in its consciousness is a type of Middle as many are unable or ignorant of all that lies outside the U.S., is however not great, for it is not the same Middle: the U.S. is arrogantly ignorant of the outside, while old and ancient Chinas were ignorant of the outside because of non-interest. Of course, many Indians today are rather more envious of, and knowledgeable about, their erstwhile white-skinned masters: they seek to emulate Europe and the U.S., though all the while also dreaming of their own "past glory". But the West, while committing many crimes, established itself on certain values, with which it did not compromise for a long, long time: Protestantism brought it pragmatism, reduced and even eliminated in many places the Baahubali worship syndrome or expectation of a Baahubali, and sought to progress by finding its own civilisational roots, in the form of the concept of law, more specifically law that applies to every single being, be it a king or a pauper. Today's West is firmly based on this concept: it has its own shortcomings, and current tendencies are trying to dismantle the base, but so far it has chosen a firm base with its own good and bad attributes.

It is not that India does not have its own civilisational roots: any civilisation has. But to reach them, India will have to short-circuit the dreamt-of, the imagined past glory. Those roots are in the value of dharma: and in dharma, you are first your own master, you decide your own obligation, rather than look up dazzled by Baahubali. Or rather, by Baahubali's might, for he (or anyone in the film) does not show a speck of intelligence (not to go as far as wisdom). Is it an indication that today's India worships might? Maybe, for Gandhi is despised by many young Indians; maybe, for belligerent actions by a state towards its own citizens or others are celebrated; maybe, for when you live in India these days, you feel afraid that you might be lynched any time if you utter what you think. After years of colonialism, India has not learnt the lesson: the British ruled over the world thanks to their cunning, not merely their naval forces. More importantly, a game can never be hastened; it can be, though, slowed so that fatigue may set in for the opponent. India is currently playing the hastening game (China has already been playing it since Mao came to power): there is a "rightful place" it wants to occupy. But what, and whose, exactly is this "rightful place"?

I can understand when, say, an intelligent student is not given admission somewhere and then that intelligent student resents, that she is not given her rightful place. But, resentment, if felt, for a truly intelligent student, is only against missing out on a fine opportunity for learning: it is motivated neither by jealousy against another (the one who got admission in her place), nor by thoughts of occupying a station of prestige. If so be the case, can the student be called intelligent, and can there be a case then? It is far more difficult to understand though what a rightful place for India can be: for India is an abstract concept. So, whose? "Every" Indian's? But then, I also come under the label of an Indian, and I am certainly not feeling like this, so certainly, there is no "every". The concept of universal may be absurd. So, "some" Indians'? And where lies their rightful place? They might be well-to-do engineers and bankers, but that rightful place is still not theirs: unless in their imagination, they think they are now respected, kow-towed to, they are "something". They want to be the Orwell, but without of course being handed over the rifle to shoot the elephant. But, then, aren't they dead? This is stagnation: if you imagine you have arrived at some station, what is there left to learn and to live for? Is death then the wished-for rightful place? In the dumb god-worship of Baahubali is reflected death on those ecstatic faces: do we want a land of dead people? Dead, who arise only to lynch others (to shoot elephants, in other words), and thus prove that they can merely serve as border guards, not advancing battalions.

Today's India, caught in the ism of "India" (what is India? is there one of it? or as many as the number of Indians? or more? or less? what is India?), bereft of humanity, given a semblance of poorly understood and misapplied liberty, and trapped by the crassly spectacular, is hurtling towards death: life does not exist in a mass trapped to stand up compulsorily to sing national anthems, but it exists rather in a body of men and women gathered when each one of them reasons, doubts, and then comes to sing a paean, but midway the paean might change tack and start a debate without fear of being lynched. Life exists in dharma, the ever-pulsating one, for at each moment, dharma's dictates may be different or may be even hard to interpret, caught as we are always in the play between rita and our own actions and their counterreactions (which themselves are all part of the rita). The base of today's India is neither law nor dharma: it is jealousy, it is narrow-heartedness. And that is a very weak base. Today's India's is admiring Baahubali because it itself is Bhallaladeva.

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Friday, June 9

auto destruction

When beds are emptied,
sarongs are dried out,
beaches are swept and scorching sun is bottled,
after that, in the dark,
the genie comes out, the zombie, the monster,

the genius,

shaped by the monolithic fun,
the unbearable lightness of a sunny Sunday.


Friday, December 9

Time of the Outsider: Is France ripe for Macron?

The current era, with a wave of anti-elitism pulsating, is probably the best time for someone like Emmanuel Macron to become the next President of France. Many fear a Le Pen victory: but they forget that the narrative is not necessarily of mindless racism, it is of rather anti-elitism. And while none of the French presidential candidates represent anything which is not elite, which anyway wouldn't work in a country which still swears by blue blood and a blue flag, Macron is the closest compromise between blue and red, the centrist white. Not Pen, certainly. This is not the time for career politicians, or if it is, they must be spontaneous, as Macron is: sometimes, though, he loses temper fast, not an ideal thing in a politican in any age.

A political analysis of the current global mood can easily point to Macron going on to win the French elections: but is the French mood the same? I wonder. The key to this question is: how will Macron communicate? Can he do an Intouchable, speak both to white and non-white audiences? Can he play the role of ambiguity, which his advantage of being a centrist brings, to perfection? Most times in politics, it is well to belong to a certain tradition, a certain party: in today's France, with voters fed up of all seasoned politicians, and every major political party in France quite bankrupt of strategies or ideas, being an independent candidate like Macron is a big advantage. However, France is demographically not all that young: how will Macron attract the older, more entrenched population? Even if Mélenchon is an extremist, many, especially the old, are charmed by his words: can Mélenchon thus attract a significant part of disillusioned socialist vote? If he does so, and assuming the extreme right vote goes to Le Pen, the major vote that remains is the one in the centre and the youth. The primary fight here is a three-cornered one: Macron, Valls and Fillon. Valls will not get much non-white vote out of this portion, and Fillon not as well; however, Valls will have the advantage of getting people off their bums to vote for him, as his rhetoric is sharp and arousing. Macron too has a sharp tongue, but that speaks more on economic terms, not that much emotional. Fillon is the least engaging: he is the typical experienced, shrewd politican. But is that good enough at such a time? If someone is anyway drifting towards Fillon, with some persuasion, they might drift towards Le Pen or Valls. And if the persuasion divides more or less evenly, the net benefit is not much for either of them, though, yes, in that case, Macron stands to lose. What does Macron have to do then? Make sure that only one side's persuasion works: either Le Pen benefits or Valls, not both. Because once—if—Macron is in the last round, I expect him to win: the key is to not let the voter be persuaded away from him in both Valls and Le Pen camps. Usually, vote fragmentation is a good thing: in Macron's case, it will be not, however. Since, vote fragmentation is a good thing when it concerns vote that would anyway go to opposition candidates, not your own potential vote.

Can Macron do it? I think he can. Most French people think Le Pen will definitely be in the last round but won't win: I don't think so. I think the final face-off will be between Macron and Valls. Thus, Macron stands to benefit if any voters that might be drifting away from him, drift towards Valls, rather than Le Pen: otherwise, in the second round it will be Valls and Le Pen, or even Valls and Fillon. (Thus, I see Valls as an extremely strong candidate to make it past the first round, even though PS is so weak currently; however, I see him as a very weak presidential candidate at the same time, as his sell-by date is only the first round.) Once in the second round, Macron will get most left votes, being a centrist, plus the centre and many right votes: any of the three, Valls (even though a socialist, hardly a socialist in deeds), Fillon (right), or Le Pen (extreme right) don't stand a chance if Macron is in the second round. Also, Valls is seen as having betrayed his president for his own ambition: evident upstart-ism is not always seen kindly, not at least in a country like France. So there is much to stoke resentment against Valls: that is something Fillon, if a bit less right, could have used to utmost benefit, but being quite right, how would he? Again, it is only Macron that can benefit, and to some extent Mélenchon. So ...

Work to do, Macron!

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Thursday, November 17

The new akhand danger to India

Even though sheltered quite naturally by geographical forces, India faced two key challenges across its centuries-old history: the multiple Islamic invasions, in particular of those who stayed on to impose taxes such as jizya; and European colonialism, who gave names and concepts such as caste and religion to Indians' understanding of India. Nothing in this life is a gain-gain or a loss-loss: we gain some, we lose some, but it's not a net zero either. We evolve: not into better or worse, but something different. India has evolved: keeping many things, notably its stunning diversity of lifestyles and beliefs, thus enabling experience of an extraordinary amount of freedom for many an individual; losing many things, in particular its groundedness, its contentedness, becoming "ferociously ambitious" as the West teaches it to, and to which new India aspires to. It is this aspiration, where individual colludes with national and religious, that gives rise to the most dangerous challenge for India: the uniformization of India, presently under way since the BJP came into power, is probably the biggest ever attack on the Hindu fabric of India, as I see it. This time again, if the BJP succeeds, there will be gain and there will be loss: India will gain as a nation-state, much stronger, muscular, ambitious, and even leading its people to greater material prosperity; India will, however, lose its freedom that I talked about earlier, and will transform from being the conscience of the world into just another ambitious upstart. This is easily the biggest assault on India's Hindu identity and ethos: when Modi tries to bring a uniform civil code, he takes away India's biggest principle by which even today millions of Indians abide, if not always then sometimes: dharma. When codified law replaces dharma, we undo the very same ancients' work that the BJP is proud to call their own: to avoid this very codification, India chose, by favouring oral transmission of knowledge, to suffer from lack of knowledge transmission and lack of material development, as opposed to, say, ancient China, which saw value early in codification and, thus, law, thus a societal structure less interrupted by craziness. When every Indian is forced to bank, to have an identity card, to come inside a system which they are happy without, we destroy millions of lifestyles, free choices, traditions, and the very feeling of freedom. For, it must be always remembered, freedom comes first from the feeling of freedom, not merely the infrastructure provided: a man left to roam wherever he pleases but having a suspicion that he is being watched does not give the recipe to a free man, whereas a man even in a prison may feel free when he is so mentally developed as to let his fancy fly unhindered when and where he pleases. Freedom is in the mind: it is not enabled by laws. The best example is France, the so-called self-proclaimed land of liberty, and in reality anything but. But when law takes the upper hand, when dharma is banished, the Western distinction between the sacred and the profane, the society and the individual, comes into play: then, schizophrenia comes into play. Already, in times of globalisation and fed by Western, leftist education, not many Indians have the ability to think things from their perspective: the BJP-provided antidote now is much the same thing, but hued saffron. Hued in the old RSS vision of an akhand Bharat. But, is Shankaracharya's akhandness the same as the RSS's akhandness?

I don't think Adi Shankaracharya, when he established the four dhaams in four corners of Indian subcontinent, ever envisioned it as akhand, or used the word, though if he did so, even then that akhand would be very different. The akhandness of India does not come from some geographical realm under one umbrella, nor from some one religious cult holding sway: it comes from the typical character of an Indian. In that way, every land (not every nation-state) is akhand: however, many lands of this world lost this aspect quite early, when they stopped, for example, their animistic practices and were converted on a mass scale to Abrahamic religions. A concept born in one land, that of the Abrahamic religions, thus suddenly was mass-exported quite early in many lands' history, and most of them succumbed to it completely: thus was born a schizophrenia, for the native character often clashed with these imported values. With industrialisation, and people's license to turn their schizophrenia (greed) into profit, things became more unhinged. In India's case, though, it held onto its Hindu identity: simply because it was, and even today is, too difficult to define what or who a Hindu is. How do you define one, at all? How do you break water? Today, though, the water is being frozen: it is being given a shape, an identity. It is done in the name of glorifying it, so that there is an akhand Hindu raashtra, but what it does is only make the water breakable, to finish the last populous land of this world where that original akhandness was surviving. Nationalism is any day an extremely dangerous evil, but when coupled with what is the Western concept of religion, it launches people into a dizzying velocity of feeling self-important and threatened from everywhere: do you expect such a person to develop in an all-round manner?

When Shashi Tharoor wrote in a book about those great Hindu mathematicians and what India did first, it is easy to forgive him: he is but a completely Western-dyed man and he thinks himself too wise. But when the BJP starts to claim ancient airplanes and we did it first, we begin to wonder, does their Indianness, or Hinduness, stop at the sacred thread itself? What's the difference between Tharoor/Congress and the BJP, except that the latter is even more dangerous since it appears to many as the one which will protect dharma? What is first, or biggest, or highest ... such superlatives come from a Western idea of timeline, of history, a history that is organically born from codification, from writing systems. If Indians were so interested in the first and the biggest, they would have written things, not orally transmitted them across centuries. If someone from Italy or Jamaica were to invent something first, does the knowledge become less fascinating, less useful, or less enlightening? Knowledge is gained through thirst: that thirst is a love of knowledge, is an utter fascination with seeking truth; that thirst is not of someone who rushes to get a patent or plant a flag on a mountain. The one who lagged behind to seek himself in the mountain air and seek mountain air in himself is a richer person: though without "proofs" for those who cannot see beyond the flag. We do not love the Ramayana for its BC or AD dates: it is the West's role to call it "mythology". Why should we call it? Do not we meet Ram or Krishna or their aspects in our own lives: what "myth" is there about it? Let those others who see merit in anchoring things on an imaginary time do their own thing; can we not devise our own methods using our own loves and realities?

It is easy to write. So my dharma is now to fight: for dharma. I shudder at the thought that once India falls, which it may soon if no one fights for dharma, the world will enter the Kali Yuga very, very fast indeed.

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Tuesday, August 9


मेरे मन को मैने फूल समझा,
हर डग लिया महक की ख्वाइश में,
पर मालूम क्या था, छुपते हैं बलों में
ज़िंदगी के सात सबेरे, ख़्वाबों की सिमटन में,

वे आते हैं बिन-बुलाए, दूर-अदूर से
रिश्ता जोड़ते हुए एक पल में ऐसा,
कि बरसों की धूल मैं करता हूँ बरामद,
जैसे हुई हो चकनाचूर रात भर ऐ ओस,

एक कटु व्यंग्य, एक मत में खोई नज़र,
मैं-मैं का मात्र वह एक लघु अस्त्र
निकले जो क्षय-ग्रस्त स्वभाव से, निरुद्देश्य,
पर मुझे याद दिलाए, खिलने का मौसम था ही नहीं|

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Monday, July 11

Brexit: chance for Russia to force open the door?

It is not just the Russian economy that has been suffering post-sanctions: Russia also has been losing clout among the stans, as money means everything and that is in short supply currently in Russia. Kazakhstan and Georgia are building new port terminals, including a dry port on the Kazakh-Chinese border, seeking to strengthen an already-strong relationship with China and bypassing Russia: both traffic-wise and politico-economically. The trend has started to reverse in the past few months, though: parts of Europe, most notably Italy, have started to warm up to Russia. Russia used to be one of Italy's biggest trading partners pre-sanctions: in particular, Gazprom having a strong relationship with Eni. However, the colour of the relationship is changing. As Russia itself needs money now to keep floating, it is the Italians, with companies such as Saipem, investing in Russia: Italians are building and owning stakes in several projects in Russia, ranging from chemicals to hotels. Things are cheaper, and past bonhomie is being raked up, as Italy, probably very wisely, predicts a thawing of relations between the EU-US combine and Russia. The world, except for the US and India, is in a bit of economic doldrums, so to give a helping hand to each other would not go amiss; Ukraine and Crimea can be forgotten for convenience's sake. Russia is also building up some of its mining capacities, most notably in semi-precious and precious metals, even though commodity prices are not helping: the argument being that costs are also down and that a future cycle of growth, especially in Indian and Southeast Asian markets, might lead another world economic rally, though maybe in only a few years' time, not immediately. While pain relief thus might still look far ahead, Russia, through Britain's exit, should be seeing a silver lining in the economic cloud.

Right-wing parties are on the rise in Europe: the effect is a Europe breaking fast. Britain's exit might very well hasten it, unless a strong and charismatic European leader emerges to arrest the explosion. Already, effects of the right on relations with Russia can be seen: as reported here, more and more regional parliaments of Italy, like the right-dominated Ligurian one, are voting to recognize Crimea as part of Russian Federation. The outcast is gaining its way back into Europe slowly: Europe, with the impending exit of the UK, will now require Russia even more. Europe requires places for production, natural resources, and markets: it doesn't have a free trade agreement as yet with India, China or the US. In fact, that is why it might probably be a wise decision for the UK to leave the EU: after all, again due to Italian influence and "all stand for one", regardless of the merits of a case, EU hasn't had an FTA with India because of the Italian marines case. Many countries of the EU would have liked to get that deal, but when you run with another partner with one of your legs tied to theirs, it is difficult to drag yourself all the way to the finish line. And it is this that Russia would exploit, and, in fact, as a wily country, will.

It cannot be ruled out, especially at such a juncture, that Russia might discretely support, financially, if it is not already doing so, Europe's right-wing parties, most of which don't have an easy time raising funds as they occupy the intellectual low ground. That would, in turn, lead to more Ligurian-like resolutions, even at national levels; that may also fulfil Russia's long-held ambitions to see Europe broken up, which gives it again a very powerful, hulking presence, able to hold its own against its strong neighbour, China. More such resolutions would mean further weakening of the pan-European entity: and countries striking their individual trade deals. Some may prefer Russia (like those who like moneybags), some China (like all would want to), some India (like UK should), some US and some Latin America (like Spain, for historical and cultural reasons). In such a scenario, if Trump wins, then US itself would be off the list: and a lot of investment would flee to buy gold and commodities, and then to Russia, China, and Southeast Asia. It would be interesting in such a case to see what policies Trump has in place with regard to South Korea and Japan, in particular: two very strong US allies and trading partners as well as major investors and manufacturers. But, anyway, let's not discuss Trump right now: that's still a bit farther away. Irrespective of Trump, Russia has it good now if the UK leaves: an ageing Europe, crumbling under its leftist and Catholic-influenced burden, needs an anchor. The UK was one, to some degree, though Europe also was an anchor, complementarily, to the UK. Now, they need another: the US won't want to be one (though a Trump-led US might want that, but Europe might not be keen on that in a Trump scenario).

The world politics is in an interesting phase: a kind of final showdown between the inexorable progress of technology, bringing the world closer faster than what many would like, and humankind's abilities of adaptability, especially changeability of culture. A lot of ups and downs might be in the store in the next thirty years: what one must not lose the sight of is that not everything should be monetized, even if money should be recognized as important (and not pooh-poohed in grandiose corporate-hating leftist visions). I don't see a larger role for India or for Africa or for Southeast Asia in the immediate future: many of these countries, notably India, have adopted the old Western model of nationalism. That is always a suspect model, but even more so in the present context, when machines are talking to machines (IoT, and machines don't have a nationality) and people can be in different continents in the same day. Don't be fooled by the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe: it is but foam that will die out, though it will take some time to die out. But countries like India are currently staking their everything on this ephemerality for some short-term advantage and some boasting: the Indian government advisers have not yet realized that by imitating the West's old methods, they will also come to the same, old results: violence, moral corruption and schizophrenia. What is very interesting is how the equation between Russia and China will play out: especially if Russia, as I predict, will become much stronger again in the next seven to ten years. India and Southeast Asia may continue to prosper economically, but it is China and Russia which might hold the key to the world in the future, along with the US. If there can be a rapprochement between China and Taiwan, which I see happening at some point of time not far into the future, that would be a major fillip to China. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea, though economic powerhouses, cannot grow beyond that in the near future, limited by their size and population. Countries like Norway might come into their own after thirty years if the Arctic has melted sufficiently: the Scandinavian countries, Russia, Canada and the US would be immediate, strong beneficiaries of global warming. (Not the fishermen of Norway, though, a major industry for the moment.) The UK, if it plays its cards well, can benefit from Brexit: it needs to invest less in its mega energy projects and more in Asia and the US, and needs to look at new research partnerships (with China, the US and Japan) to replace some European ones. Though, hopefully, Europe won't be so foolish as to cut off a lot of ties with the UK: that would be a bad situation for everyone in the world, except for the European right-wingers (and for Russia).

Note added later: I did not mention Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two giants and who are both in the process of diversifying their economies. I think that they would keep a low profile for the foreseeable future, just silently expanding their reach. The sociological impact in these countries will be interesting to observe now that they are forced to diversify, and hence be more open.