Saturday, August 27, 2011

hunger games

for the life of me i CANNOT understand how when one man threatens to remain hungry till 'death does him apart' for a cause that he believes to be paramount, and retain a moral high ground while doing so at the same time, people feel not just empathetic towards that cause, but a sense of shared high moral ground towards realizing that cause.

in other words, being 'hungry-till-i-die' seems to be in some rare cases, a means of generating not merely a shared empathy for a cause, but a high moral ground.

when it is said that one makes a decision to "remain hungry", it is not involuntary... it is a matter of choice. and of course this is no 'aam admi' (ordinary man)... he most certainly must be very very special, since quite obviously his 'choice' to 'remain hungry' seems to have garnered much 'national' attention (at least as far as what the media seems to be projecting), as opposed to some others in a similar situation of 'remaining hungry' for more than a decade without notice; and millions of others who die hungry, or kill themselves due to utterly helpless situations of inability to feed even one's family..

of course, he's a special 'citizen' while the others are mere populations, animals, terrorists or separatists..

but none of this matters... this one man is threatening to die, while thousands have already died, thousands are being killed, people who have been forced to death sentences.... all of whose deaths do not matter...

one man.. and his hunger... apparently the force of the nation cannot satisfy this one man's hunger... what a large appetite... indeed he must be very special...

Monday, August 22, 2011

UK riots: in pictures

i came across a bunch of photographs on the Guardian website of the UK riots.. was wondering what to do about the photographs.. or what to think about them... so i thought i'd share them here, and scribble some of my thoughts in the form of captions... this is a first in the series... i hope to do more...

this, along with many other similar images of the destruction just seemed straight out of the apocalyptic genre of movies that as we all know, are usually situated in cities (of course others in endless stretched of deserted farms or villages, but let's not think of that now). but unlike those movies, it didn't take an alien force or an enemy nation to invade (and the normative imaginary cause for such destruction has to be either air-attacks or super slick bombs made by scientist geniuses gone wrong). i keep thinking, what would this look like on large screen.. and my conscience doesn't prick.. hmmm...
such graceful horses.. and such a magnificent fire.. where do humans stand in comparison to either..
like a fairy tale gone wrong.. how do imageries of destruction manage to be so captivating.. enchanting even! how does a journalist stand in front of this scene and take a photograph as arresting as this.. was he 'just doing his job'? or was he 'hoping to capture the immensity of destruction'?.. running after authorial intentions may never get us anywhere.. but as i see this photo again and again, i'm struck by the street lamp on the top-left corner that's still burning.. it doesn't hold a candle to the blazing fire, but it seems to hold its own... it interrupts the otherwise-natural duo-tone silhouette of the photograph... wonder what that says about the life of objects...
this is the Sony Centre warehouse.. massive industry.. massive fire.. massive water.. massive state power.. quite a 'powerful' image, all in all..
explosive, to say the least... we rarely think of buildings containing the possibility to erupt.. they collapse, they burn, they crumble, they decay... but for a building to spew a lava-like fire.. crackling and sizzling.. and to melt.. for all the wrong reasons, it reminds me of Marx's famous "all that is solid melts into air".. it doesn't evaporate, doesn't vanish, doesn't erode... it melts.. and there's nothing quite furious as a monument melting...
the clouds seem to have left their shadows forever imprinted on the building...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

ways of inhabiting the world

the world i inhabit is decidedly for me, divided into those who follow vegetarianism and those who follow non-vegetarianism. this has nothing to do with the simple practice of eating vegetarian food or eating non-vegetarian food. people are free to eat what they wish as a matter of choice and taste. but i believe that fundamentally, there can be no way of practicing vegetarianism and being in this world at the same time.

and to my mind, those who devoutly abide by the ideology of vegetarianism can lead their lives only through a most decrepit form of hypocrisy. there is an astronomical difference between eating vegetarian food and professing and propagating vegetarianism.

vegetarianism is puritanism in its most 'primitive', and feral form.

it boggles my mind the extent to which a belief in one's eating habits can extend to an absolutist belief in the superiority of that self and the consequent inferiority of others. vegetarianism is also product of the philosophies of the soul/mind-body divide; the kind that believes the body is the prison of the soul, as a result of which the least 'humans' can do is to preserve the purity of the body.

Foucault's brilliance can be invoked here. given the similar soul/mind-body binary with which European enlightenment worked (is it mere coincidence that most Brahmanical texts spoke the same tongue many centuries before? nah.. I am a firm believer in Said's Travelling Ideas), he wrote: the soul is the prison of the body.

i've never seen a reversal work quite so brilliantly!

imagine the horror of those who beat/ throw stones at animals, birds, why, even their wives (for aren't they beasts of reproduction for those men?); those who don't eat meat but don't mind fur coats and cosmetics laden with animal fat; those who kill rats, roaches, plants, dogs, humans... - and then proclaim vegetarianism to be clean, purifying, and superior!

is there a way of being in this world such that one does no harm to anyone/anything? yes, its called being dead.

if there's a way of coping with the horrors of humanity and life itself, non-vegetarianism is crucial and basic for survival.

non-vegetarianism for me, is a deeply honest, a deeply coeval way of inhabiting this world. it is the only way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the cruelty of heritage

the usual clamour made by 'indians' about 'we indians' is that 'we' do not know how to respect and preserve our heritage, blah blah. look west, look east, its all so well kept, well showcased.. how much more pride in 'our culture and tradition' would 'we' be able to accumulate had 'we' shown even an iota of the same commitment that other, even smaller nations are able to...

(dangerously, some might go so far as to say: look at sri lanka! a nation hit by war, and yet they preserve and showcase their monuments so well. no matter that scores of people were brutally murdered, and scores of lives and forms of livelihood destroyed in a war that was fundamentally racist, and instituted through the agency of the government. oh  no, lets not talk of bygones.. their monuments are so well kept; tourism is flourishing.. such hospitality!)

the problem with india (and india has so many problems) is that, worse still, apparently the gatekeepers of 'our' heritage are steeped in politics.. so, damn the 'corrupt' politicians and the BIG BAD POLITICS! 

some might say: why, we don't even have our kohinoor... its sitting in the tower of london crested into the crown jewels.. what would we say to this? would we be able to say then that, at least its well kept there. the moment it reaches india, it'll be infested in a prism of POLITICS.. 

is heritage anywhere really not inflected through politics? indeed can there be a discourse on heritage that is not necessarily imbricated in a politics of heritage? why, what would the the British Museum be without all its Indian/Egyptian/ Mesopotamian/ Persian collections... oh those were acquired as gifts to the Raj. shall we start talking politics finally? they say gift, some would say loot. loot, you say? why, the erstwhile colonial masters could never 'loot'! (and mind you, some American scholar recently mentioned in the form of an anecdote [and most anecdotes suffer from a pathology of xenophobism i think] that the word loot supposedly originates from the word lootna in hindi - to steal. imagine the levels to which typecasting had reached in colonial times... to attribute a word, which is not just a word, its a state-of-mind, to an entire people.. )

it was the generous Indians who gifted it to the needless-to-state superior Raj. but they're no longer colonial masters. what might've been gift then, can just as well be considered loot now. and in any case, how can one 'gift' anything to a king? any such attempt, under circumstances of servitude (partial it may be) must necessarily be seen as an act of surrender. what do 'we' say?: so what if we cannot keep it safe and locked up in a tower? so what if it gets stolen? at least it gets stolen from here!

what happens next?

we come full circle to chant the usual clamour.. 'we have no respect...." blah..

and where do we go from here?


there's this song which has become a very popular rhyme..

london bridge is falling down...
falling down, falling down..
london bridge is falling down..
my fair lady..

one can only speculate why and how or whether it fell at all, and who 'my fair lady' that this song is adressed to, might be... also, there are varying versions of the next few stanzas, each with differing meanings and so on.. be it of rebuilding the bridge [build it up with wood and clay], or the repeated failures in being able to do so.. [wood and clay will wash away].. so the 'material' cannot replace or rebuild the structure; what was destroyed was not merely the bridge as material form.. it stood for something else...

in any case, in rhyme form, it is sung with much glee.. singing with joy about watching a building fall seems rather bizarre... a descriptive, narrative, visual account of fall...

and yet, if at all one wishes to historicize it, the rhyme-song seems to suggest a couple of things: the bridge stood as paramount symbol of oppression - signalling the destruction of a bastion of power - it is important to watch it falling... and to sing with joy of its fall... the other way of looking at it would be that, in its fall was engendered a collective will to rebuild, no matter the failures.. and so on..

the rhyme has been leeched of all other connotations, as is the case with most rhymes, but it is immensely popular..

but today, would it be possible to even speak - not sing - about destruction in any manner except with gravity? we are seeing images of london burning in riots over the last week or so.. of buildings being set to fire.. of shops being looted.. immediate thoughts are usually of mindless destruction; mob fury; re-construction and restoration; policing; stock market; and so on.

setting fire to, or pulling down architecture, public statuary and objects of cultural production that epitomize a dominant power structure has historically been a practice of many movements world over.. it especially made sense to destroy a building/ statue/ object precisely because it had been invested with a value of heritage. what sense would it make to destroy any ordinary building? none, if one considers the symbolic value of destruction as well, apart from pragmatic. the power to acquire such heritage was made possible in/through the subordination and oppression of many others.

however, nothing today it seems justifies the destruction of buildings of monumental value, those that are symbolic of a power that is simmering with a potential to unleash its oppressive nature..

and yet, it might still be possible to destroy with perfect ease minor structures.. for these are not structures of power.. they are structures of solidarity, of community..

in that sense, i do believe in marking a difference between major and minor architecture.. they both contain and signify immensely different meanings, contexts, and significances.. laughing over the destruction of a major object of cultural production, and a minor one, are entirely different things...

world over, would it be possible today, to laugh with glee, and jump with joy at the destruction of minor architecture, as it was possible with tremendous ease a decade or two back? and yet, how far is babri masjid demolition away from today? not very. how many statues of ambedkar have been repeatedly destroyed over the last many decades? scores.

maybe for the west it might not be possible to openly laugh and celebrate the defeat of 'enemy' figures/ territories/ lives/ objects.. but as far as india is concerned, i really don't have the courage to imagine that such cruel laughter belongs to a time bygone..