Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Indian Presidential Bash

(A shorter version of this appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Breakout the bubbly, toss the confetti and release some white doves. The Republic of India is about to elect a new President!

Not that most of the country gives a crap about the office of the President. Nobody besides news junkies and ‘general knowledge enthusiasts’ is paying any attention to this contest. The thing is, the President doesn’t really have any real power. He or she is not even the premier freeloader in our long list of freeloaders system of governance. We don’t really want to learn the names of people who we can’t blame for the malaise that has taken over our lives. The Prime Minister, yes. The buck stops with him! He is supposed to be the real leader of the government. The first among equals. So we can easily blame him. But the President? One of the main reasons that position exists is because our founders wanted to show a big, democracy-shaped middle finger to the British Empire. Look at you England, with your fake monarch wearing stolen jewellery. Real democracies have semi-elected titular heads-of-state! Suck on that, subservient realms of the commonwealth.

Most Presidents in our country have occupied that august office after a hard fought victory on ‘India’s Got Sycophants.’ The rules of this contest are simple: if you’re a good sycophant with at least a couple of independent opinions, you get to be a Rajya Sabha MP. If you’re a really good sycophant – with no independent thought process whatsoever and a disturbingly eager need to please – you get to become Governor of a state. And the most sycophantic of them all – a person who not only is incapable of having a pre-approved brain fart but doesn’t even go to the bathroom without prior permission – advances to the final round and gets to be President.

This year they must have raided an old people’s home for contenders to the Presidency. People were coming out of the woodwork to declare their candidacy. Though tragic Satyajit Ray movie character Pranab Mukherjee was the favourite, for a minute there it looked like his ambition would be thwarted again. Even though he had been campaigning for months, the sphinx of 10 Janpath remained unmoved. She only belatedly agreed to his candidacy when Mamta Banerjee showed once again that she is three colours short of a full palette. While PA Sangma continued to lose even the last shreds of his dignity, Abdul Kalam allowed himself to be used as a political football again.  Now that we’re done with the five-yearly fake national wankfest over him, the next time he will be all over the news is when someone frisks him at an airport. Hell, even the angriest man on Indian television, Ram Jethmalani, threatened to nimbly sprint for President. Jethmalani, of course, is the standard bearer for lost causes. He has fought and lost more contests than an IPL team led by Sourav Ganguly. In fact, he even lost the online contest for ‘the drunkest Indian’ thanks to some last minute strategic voting by confused Narendra Modi fans.

Since our press corps are always gunning for a crisis – these are the same people who literally spend days arguing over hypothetical events which most of the time never even happen – so if they get a whiff of even a remote possibility of a real political dogfight, they’re going to suck that puppy dry. They turned this boring contest into a staged WWE spectacle. Pranab Mukherjee was transformed into Hulk Hogan: all hype and no substance. A man respected and lauded for his achievements, even though he has spent his whole career sucking up to his boss and trying to stop others from getting ahead. Abdul Kalam was Ric Flair: a man who has achieved a lot in his life but refuses to retire gracefully and keeps showing up to the arena even though no one wants him anymore. PA Sangma was the Brooklyn Brawler: a man who only exists to lose the match and make the other guy look stronger than he actually is.

Even the left parties made a cameo appearance in this extravaganza. The left parties are the Ultimate Warrior of Indian politics: they could have almost been in the main event, but thanks to their own warped sense of reality, they are so far away from the mainstream that no one even remembers who they are.  

The winner of this Presidential summer slam was Pranab Mukherjee. Let this be a lesson to all the children – if you’re a sycophant to enough members of the Gandhi clan, if you spend your whole life thwarting your ambition and then use all your surrogates in the media to spend months promoting your candidacy – then you too can ascend to the highest office in the land!

In all this hullaballoo, we might miss giving the current occupant a proper send-off. Although in a gallery full of individuals even history will not bother to remember, Pratibha Patil stands out as ordinary, I, for one will miss President God Whisperer. The hilarious thing about making an alleged conwoman President is the blatantly hilarious highway robbery she continues to (allegedly!) commit. I’d be more outraged at the stadium sized house she planned to build, or her outrageously inappropriate foreign jaunts in which she took along everyone who even shared a small atomic fraction of her DNA, but living in this country if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that if you can’t arrest them and put them in jail, at least make terribly unfunny jokes about them.

Every time the Presidential elections roll around, one is reminded of what a strange fellow once said, never have so many fought for something of so little value. Why does anyone want to be President anyway? You have no real duties. People come to you with complaints you have no powers of addressing. The government will saddle you with clemency applications which are a political time bomb. However, you can pretty much do whatever you want while somebody else pays for it. You get to tour the world like a person of actual importance. You get to live in one of the largest palaces in the world. You get to host people who actually are capable of re-making the world. You can get every useless member of your family a job for life. And you get a salary while you do all this.

Wait; is it too late to throw my hat in for consideration?

Monday, June 18, 2012

If you don’t read this article, I’m going to punch you in the face

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As students submit applications to institutions in which they will spend the next few years learning about things which will leave them woefully unprepared for adult life (or as it is otherwise known as, ‘college’), our whole offense economy is gathering itself to spend most of next month frothing in the mouth about ragging. Yes, ragging. The cutesy term we give to the event in which college seniors compensate for their imagined masculinity by trying to humiliate their newly-arrived juniors.

When it started, many decades ago, it was probably really about breaking the ice and getting to know each other. A privilege the seniors assumed they had over their juniors, who in turn could assume the same privilege when they became seniors. It degenerated to such an extent that some juniors started killing themselves because of the humiliation they suffered. That is because we’re Indian, when we get a privilege, we have to overuse it. Look, free drinks, let’s drink so much that we lose all our senses and hit on the hosts’ wife. So, the sign outside the restaurant said ‘All you can eat.’  Those idiots may think of it as a marketing slogan, we think of it as a challenge.

The mêlée of people at the receiving end of the objections may also be confused because we are a culture which seems to be at home with bullying. People have objections to what other people are doing all the time and make it their life’s work to make them comply. Anybody who gets an opportunity to bully other people in this country is going to take it. We consider being able to forcibly exert control over people a virtue. We’re okay with someone being a bully as long as they can explain it with warped logic. I just spotted a woman in a pub. Why is she here and not at home learning 18 different ways to make brinjals from her mother? I don’t see her father or brother around her! Let us sexually harass her and put some shame into her. Along with our penises, of course!

We always ‘feel free’ to tell other people how to live their life. Fat people should be thin! Divorced people should be married! Poor people should be rich! Children should never be tired! Gay people should just be straight! Brown people should be white! And white people, ZOMG! CAN I KISS THE GROUND YOU”RE CURRENTLY WALKING ON? And we accept this like its holy gospel! We even teach our children from the day that they are born. Being yourself is never good enough. You need to be better. Even if you are terribly unhappy, you are not supposed to do anything. Just stay there and pray! Show the other cheek! When that turns red from pain too, take off your pants and show your other two cheeks. No, don’t try to fight back. Gandhi would not have approved.

Old people can impose their own agenda on the young because it is our culture. Listen to your elders, even if they are assholes! Police officers who want to be the big-man-on-campus will raid a party full of teenagers and call it a rave. Look how successfully I am protecting your city by arresting a bunch of harmless kids drinking beer! Members of one community will bully members of another community just because they can. Making other people bend to your wishes is a value we hold very dear in this country. It doesn’t matter whether the person is different from us because of his religion, caste or the pastry shop he frequents. As long as he is not ‘one of our own,’ he or she is fair game. In fact, instead of the ‘Ashok Chakra,’ our national emblem should be a portrait of a guy going into a restaurant while the text in the thought bubble above him says “I’ll have what he is having. No, really. Take it away from him and give it to me. Thanks in advance.”

We don’t mind cutting off other people while on the road. Or skipping queues. The right to skip huge queues is probably enshrined in the constitution, though only for those who can afford it. Doctors can bully patients because, they studied for ten years to get here, and they don’t have time to be nice to you. Companies can bully their customers, because what are you going to do? Fire us? Ha! They are so many of you it doesn’t matter if we lose a few. Event organizers make things as difficult as they can for all the fans who managed to buy those overpriced tickets. Just because we promise something, doesn’t mean we have to fulfil it. If you want a good concert experience, go to a different country where even though they will look at you like you’re going to blow them up, they will still treat you better than your own countrymen. And we assuage ourselves, that it is okay to do this! If we don’t be ruthless with other people, they will be ruthless with us.

Even a lot of our sources of entertainment subliminally enforce this message. Most of our popular television reality shows are about people submitting themselves to being harassed and mentally tortured just for a chance at their fifteen minutes of fame. Even though fame is not kind to the people who are unfortunate enough to marinate in it, but everybody wants to be famous. So that they can too be celebrated for being mean to other people.

Now please excuse me while I go and fire the household help for daring to establish eye contact.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ladies & Gentlemen, your new Messiah will see you now

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Every time the new Aamir Khan teevee show comes on, it divides people on twitter into two bitter groups. Although, that is not saying much. People on twitter are usually waiting for an opportunity to chastise each other, with each trending topic being just a small, disposable cog in the wheel. Every issue is just another way to prove that you are right, and those people opposing you, those straw men and women with their stupid arguments, are nothing but the scum of the earth. On twitter as in real life, everything is defensible, even the ‘band’ Creed, which all sane people agree is worse than a hundred Hitlers. (For those not familiar with this unit of measurement, a hundred Hitlers are equal to one Akshay Kumar movie.)

One group wants to mock everybody for their naiveté and the other one wants everybody to shut up, leave their cynicism for once, and give the man a chance to heal the world and make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race. On one hand there are people who think that this is another publicity hound doing things to make himself feel better while hogging the limelight; on the other we have people who think he is finally highlighting issues we refuse to talk about and that he should be applauded for doing this instead of hosting yet another bollywood circle jerk.

One of the chief criticisms of the show is that the host takes a large amount of money to perform his duties. A lot of people seem to believe that a person with good intentions would do good things for free. However, anyone who has ever worked on even a small welfare project will tell you that volunteers who work for free are the most erratic.

When I was ‘studying’ in college, at the beginning of each one of my semesters, I used to promise myself that I would attend all the scheduled classes this time. I would even be seen attending a class on the first day of every semester. Thankfully, I would be back to my senses by the next day. For a teacher, spotting me in class used to be an event whose occurrence was rarer than the transit of a celestial body, and the next time they would be hearing from me would be either during the exams or after them, when I used to bribe them to give me more marks than I deserved.

Most people who like to ‘volunteer’ their time, do it with the same enthusiasm that I used to bring to rehabilitating my attendance record. When you’re doing something out of guilt or to make yourself feel better about yourself, your enthusiasm will wane as the going gets tough. Compensating people for their time, their hard work, their opportunity cost is one way of ensuring that their enthusiasm is maintained. A bribe to show up everyday, if you will. As I told one of my teachers when she chastised me for my not-so-exemplary attendance record, you get paid for this, I don’t. Even though she tried to get me suspended, she wasn’t successful because just like the majority of the people in this country, my college principal also needed a ‘small’ incentive to do the right thing. Or, to my benefit, to not do it.

Meanwhile, Aamir Khan has been turned into yet another saviour we were waiting for. The old ‘at least he is doing something!’  symptom of overcompensation for ignoring our problems. And that something instead of being a placeholder becomes a substitute for doing anything. You don’t actually have to do things anymore; the mere fact that something is being done is good enough.

Our whole culture is geared toward waiting for ‘the one.’ Our religions keep telling us that God is missing this crappy planet so much that he will be back one more time for shits, giggles and to use those fancy planning commission bathrooms everyone keeps raving about. A large amount of our movies which pretend to be about social causes are about how the lead protagonist was so burned by the system that he took revenge – by completely eradicating the systematic rot that has been gnawing away at the roots of this county for hundreds of years – and solved all our problems in three hours.

Last year, some well meaning folks in my neighbourhood were pulling a double whammy and going to hold a candelight march and ‘token hunger strike’ to support some vague campaign against black money. I asked them if they hated black money so much, why don’t they actually keep their accounts in order and pay tax on their real income? They looked at me with the bewilderment and disgust usually reserved for fiends who put a gun to a baby’s head and make it fingerbang a cute puppy. We have a system we don’t follow? Whose problem is it? Not mine! TELL SOME MAGSAYSAY AWARD WINNER TO RISE UP AND SAVE US!

There is going to be no messiah that is going to suddenly appear out of nowhere  to save us. While we keep waiting for one, shit keeps hitting the fan. You don’t go to war with the weapons you want, you go to war with the weapons you have. The solutions to our problems do not lie with one person. They lie with all of us. A serious person willing to solve our problems will never get ahead in our polity. They will remain on the sideline, writing well researched articles for academic journals.

You can’t order “good leaders” on the internet. You have to make them. We have to use the cynical a**holes who currently lord over us and get away with bloody murder (because they can!). We have to hold their feet to the fire. These people have no core and will go anywhere the blowing wind takes them. If we want better governance, if we want better law & order, if we want better management of our national resources, then we need to make our so called leaders do that. There are no free lunches. You don’t get things because you are entitled to them. You get them only if you fight for them.

If you think I’m right, please join the fight against rabid tokenism by ‘liking’ the Facebook group created solely to stem the growth of this epidemic.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dial Di for Delusion

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As India’s favorite insane asylum outpatient, Mamta Banerjee celebrated the first year of her reign of terror and darkness, the kind folks at Sardesai TV had a bright idea. They decided to stop shouting for a couple of minutes and hold a Q & A session with the newish overlord of West Bengal. And then, in a scenario which even a casual viewer of a badly plotted sitcom could foresee, during the session, the minute someone asked her a real question, Ms. Banerjee not only refused to offer an answer, but for good measure called the person asking the question a maoist (as you do!) and then walked out. It takes real talent to share a stage with Sagarika Ghose and still come out looking like the crazy one, but, if anyone can accomplish this arduous task, then it’s the Commie Crusher of Calcutta. This is what happens when you surround yourself with yes-men and don’t allow any contradictory opinion to even wander near your frontal lobe. Maybe if she left the padded room they keep her in once in a while there would be hope that maybe one day she would have a tiny grip on reality?

It seems that delusion is an important part of public life in this country.

Perhaps it is why human tub of lard and Information and Broadcasting minister Kapil Sibal was able to stand on the ‘sacred’ floor of parliament and be able to claim, with a straight face, that India is perhaps more liberal than even America or Western Europe. So liberal it hurts! So liberal that we ban books without reading them. So liberal that we send the most number of takedown notices to Google. So liberal that we deny visas to foreign journalists who are critical of our policies.  Maybe he actually does believe the constant obfuscation he offers in lieu of real answers?

Although that was nothing compared to the travesty that was the ‘celebration’ of the three years in government of the second iteration of the UPA. That is like throwing a party to commemorate that drunken night three years ago when you had a one night stand with a random person and they gave you syphilis. Though no one was surprised because this government has turned tone-deafness into an art form. Not only have they spent each excruciating day in the past three years muddling from one crisis to the next, they are so barren that every time some wayward ally threatens to pull the rug from beneath their feet, a small part of you kind of wants them to go ahead with their threat so that this mass of diseased puss pretending to govern the country for the past few years can finally be put out of its misery. Only a deluded party would look at the drubbing it received in the assembly elections held in the country’s biggest state and try to convince itself that it was not a repudiation of its policies; that it would have won the elections had it not been for infighting. That it decided to stay the course is a testament to the long distance relationship between reality and the leaders of the Congress party.

Of course, if we had a proper opposition they would capitalize on such brazen incompetence. However, our principal opposition party is made up of a rag-tag bunch of jokers - bereft of any ideas - who cannot even stand the sight of each other yet still persist with the pretension of being a cohesive unit only because of their unmitigated and naked lust for power.  An opposition party which continues to offer nothing but empty, unproductive gestures instead of any legitimate debate or any useful policies. The opposition parties in this country are so weak and helpless that they forcibly ceded their space to desi Robin Hood and his merry band of tax evading, expense fudging, and invective throwing minions.

Now, nobody currently embodies the collective delusion of our political class more than P.A. Sangma. A politician who was important for a few minutes in 1996, and is on what many observers would describe – if they want to be really, really kind -  as a quixotic quest to be President. In his shamelessness, he has even managed to sell out the very people whose interests he claims to care for. According to Sangma, letting him mangle English words for five years in Rashtrapati Bhavan would right all the wrongs of the past. The profound distance the North East has felt from the mainland, the years of being ignored by the central government, it would all be fixed if they make a guy who even members of his own party aren’t aware of, the President. The most incredulous claim he has made is that a President Sangma would bring down naxalism and hurt the insurgency. Yes, a President Sangma would also find a cure for cancer, fix the imbalanced gender ratio, singlehandedly bring an end to the corruption that ails the country and make it rain cute puppies and edible confetti all the time.

Which brings us back to Mamta Banerjee. She ended her week by leading a protest against the government. This was an act of such bravado that it caused a fissure in the space-time continuum. Even though she is in government both at the centre and the state, she figured that the best plan of action would be to lead a procession against both these entities. Usually she is just judge, jury and executioner; however, this time she was both Chief Minister and the Leader of Opposition. There was even an awkward moment when she, in her capacity as chief minister, called herself, in her capacity as leader of opposition, a maoist.

Somewhere in famous people heaven, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are looking down on her and going “Even we can’t cure this.”