Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Je t'aime Amelie

What happens when a resourceful introvert decides to become the Madonna of the Unloved? You find Amelie, another great piece of poetry from the French film industry.
I've watched Amelie a good many times already (twice in the past 24 hours) and this has made me ponder over its many cinematic elements that connect so powerfully with me. The connection begins as soon as I see Audrey Tautou on the screen. Composed on the outside, seething with passion inside, that's Audrey playing Amelie. She doesn't speak about herself unless cornered for a response, but the camera captures her every nuanced emotion. It speaks of her dysfunctional childhood and her fierce determination to hold on to hope and goodness. It conveys her rich inner world - a world that can belong only to the shy. It captures her yearning for justice, romance and even the elusive "happily ever after". It follows her as she manipulates her immediate world - and the people who populate it - using subtle yet intricate means.
The two central characters - Amelie and the camera - pivot the narrative in refreshingly unexpected directions. The dialogues make love to life and Paris. The plot explores the seed of bravery underneath every shrub of cowardice and vice versa.
It all falls into an unmistakable pattern - we're all fallible, we're all divine. We have one life to live. Amelie chooses to live hers on her own terms. And one fine summery day, everything she wants comes within her grasp. She latches on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 wheels to love

Man loves Bike. Period.
Unless Man loves Car. But we shall not go there.
In this case, Man loves Bike. More so because Man has had Bike in his life longer than any romantic relationship. Under such circumstances, it's quite a challenge to keep the (man-machine) relationship on an even keel. I sometimes congratulate myself for not having given my bike a gender or a name. I refer to it simply as 652 - the concluding part of its license plate.
652 and I have had 12 adventurous years of togetherness. We were together when I was madly in love. And we're together now. All these years, we've put up with each other's idiosyncrasies. I tend to be amongst the faster moving traffic on the road (which, let's face it, depends quite a lot on 652). On its part, 652, though not moody as bikes go, has been downright obstinate. Its indicator lights have never operated as per the design, it still sputters between 44 and 45 kmph and it inevitably requires an annual de-carbonization.
Small price to pay for the kind of kinship this beautiful bike has accorded me. I've taken it deep into uncivilized territories, kept it baking under the sun for months on end, abandoned it during the years I was onsite, refused to keep it sparkling clean and not even bothered to service it more than once a year. Yet, it serves me faithfully. It's never left me stranded. It has stood patiently as I picked arguments with corrupt cops. And it's never skidded under my hold, although it has given timely and wobbly warnings on a couple of occasions.

Despite all that, I did something quite drastic to 652 last week. I changed its seat assembly. Yeah. 652 now has a brand new seat, not one with fragments of the sponge exposed. Frankly, I was getting tired of the squishy welcome my bum received whenever it rained. But now, when I sit on this bone-dry new seat, I feel a little sad. This isn't the seat that ferried that breathtaking woman in my life, and later, my cutie-pie daughter. This isn't the seat with memories.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I may not have given my bike a gender or a name, but I never doubted for a moment that it has a soul.

Monday, December 14, 2009

War of the neocons

Ah! Fox News!!
As a thumb rule, I avoided watching Fox News while in the US. Because, you know, I wanted to retain whatever sanity I had left. I made an exception to this rule whenever I had entered a prolonged state of vegetation on the couch. Like during Thanksgiving weekend, day three, with my blood slowly freezing due to inactivity. At such times, I felt the need to thaw my blood. Fox News was always around. Within minutes, this channel would bring my blood to a boil.
Geez! How neoconservative can one get?
We're indeed blessed that Fox News has continued to do its thing. It has not slackened even for a moment. Four days ago, this happened:


And I found out about it while watching the inimitable Arnab Goswami on Times Now. Mr. Goswami was fuming as usual: how could Glenn Beck say such things against India and Indians? Isn't there a limit? (or something to that effect).

I found Mr. Goswami particularly hilarious on this occasion. I mean, the irony cannot have been lost on even him. The first time I saw him, I felt that he was modeling himself on Bill O'Reilly of, surprise, surprise, Fox News! I felt the same jingoistic, chest-thumping vibe as on that Fox program titled, what was the name now, yeah, The O-Reilly Factor.
So it was really amusing to see Mr. Goswami defend India against Mr. Beck. I guess people who are too similar to us get our goat.

On a personal note, I'm happy to note that neocons - the American variety and the Indian - have ceased to have a detrimental effect on me. Aren't they an amusing bunch? I, for one, am ready to kick back and laugh.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Telangana. Now?!

The second chapter in Rosaiah's stint as the Andhra Pradesh CM began with the fast-unto-death (right?) of K Chandrashekar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. The TRS currently has a single-point agenda to establish a separate state of Telangana, although you can rest assured that the party will be around if and when the state of Telangana becomes a reality.
I won't comment much on the politics of fasting because the most important man of the last century used it effectively (and usually for the right reasons), so we as a nation cannot become anti-fasting just because we managed to install democracy.
What I'd like to comment on is the manner in which the high-pitched, high-salaried, law-unto-themselves anchors of national news channels have confused the issue. To these Brands-within-Brands, the formation of Telangana poses a serious threat to national interests. Why so? Because our identities are getting narrower by the day. Because Telangana proclaims a strong regionalism within linguism. And aren't we already suffering the consequences of linguism?
True. We are suffering the consequences of linguism. We, as a nation, are like a divided Europe and our Constitution works a tad better than the EU. Of course, we don't even have the advantage of a single script. So we're more deeply divided by language. (I won't even get into caste and religion.)

To such a divided India, does Telangana offer good news or bad? Good, the way I see it. If this really is the beginning - and if this does lead to the formation of Vidharba, for instance - then it means that linguistic borders don't make sense to people any more. People are looking for something else - sociopolitical equality and economic prosperity. At least, that's what the people of Telangana are looking for. I'm reasonably certain of this because I spent a great deal of time in Telangana a couple of years ago.

I was then researching on the Naxalite movement in AP, for which I camped for different periods of time in all three regions of AP, namely coastal AP (Vizag), Rayalseema (Anantapur) and finally Telangana (Hyderabad and Warangal). In both coastal AP and Rayalseema, most people I met dismissed the idea of Telangana as subversive politics. Damned politicians harping for their own gains, they said.
In Hyderabad, almost everybody was happy with the status quo. In fact, many of my friends - who lived in Hyderabad but were from outside AP - did not even know that Hyderabad fell within the Telangana region.
But in Warangal - where I stayed for almost a month - I heard a different song. The professors of Kakatiya University I met were convinced that the region will prosper only if a separate state was formed. The labourers I interviewed were seething with anger because they felt that the state's developmental work focused on Rayalseema because the most powerful politicians belonged there. Auto rickshaw drivers thought it would be cool to have a separate state. A schoolteacher in the town of Pasra, when I asked him if he wanted Telangana, replied that he was keeping his fingers crossed. One Human Rights activist felt that it would be infinitely easier to administer a carved up AP.

I see immense wisdom in his words. India is an administrator's nightmare. We must find a more delegated model of governance, and if this requires carving up existing states, then so be it. Such an approach offers enormous advantages:

1) Regional parties that do astonishingly well in one election will find it more difficult to blackmail the Central Government. Take the case of Bihar and Laloo Prasad Yadav. The man has been cut down to size, not just by the emergence of Nitish Kumar but also due to the formation of Jharkhand. I can think of many more regional czars who can do with some trimming. Imagine UP being further dissected into Purvanchal, Mithilanchal and more such. Imagine a Saurashtra with a shot at secularism (don't know about this, though). But you get the drift. More players in the Central Government, a more fragmented coalition, but with more leverage for the truly national parties.

2) The ultimate administrative model for India would be decentralized to the extent possible. A model wherein 75% of day-to-day governance is run by the Panchayats. This suggestion usually sends shivers up our spine, huh? But consider this. A rural mango man (aam aadmi) who wants help from the law and order machinery can more easily approach a sarpanch than a District Collector. Been to the DC's office? It still runs on the Raj mentality. The earthquake-proof building, the guards at the gate and the red tape are sufficient to prevent the mango man from entering it. Of course, local governance comes with its own challenges. Village landlords can quickly, and more effectively, use the system for their personal gains. But despite all the challenges, local governance is the way forward. If you're still not convinced, then consider this: when there's a power failure in your area, you call a local number of the Electricity Board. Would you like it if the entire city had one number and someone in that one central office decided if and when your message will be conveyed?
Let's also concede that each region has its own peculiar issues. Blanket policies issued from across hundreds of kilometres are often useless, even counterproductive. Local Thinking will help.

3) End of linguism, as I mentioned before.

4) A more unique landscape. Every new state can use the opportunity to honour their own heroes, resurrect their own distinct arts and crafts etc.

5) A less socialistic distribution of revenue. What the region earns, it spends. There's more incentive to develop. A harsh example of this is the formation of the predominantly tribal state of Chattisgarh. Bhopalis can now say (although they won't) that they no longer fund the darker region. Good for MP.
Of course, the formation of Chattisgarh has not yielded positive results so far. Mining-oriented "development" is happening, but the benefits never reach the mango man. The state is also dealing with Naxalism in Dantewara and Bastar (in the worst manner possible). These are glaring failures, but they are failures of our democratic framework, not the concept that led to the formation of Chattisgarh. Perhaps one day the land will throw up a leader who will solve its own unique problems.

At the moment, the politicians of AP are measuring the formation of Telangana using a political seismograph. Once the dust settles, we will perhaps see it as the will of the people.

A giant crashes, the neighbourhood rumbles

The political turmoil in Andhra Pradesh hasn't ceased since YSR's chopper crashed in early September. The central leadership of the Congress Party began the churn by making K. Rosaiah the caretaker CM of the state, and later made his appointment more permanent. Odd choice, it seemed to many. It wasn't. YSR was a mixed blessing for the CWC. Although he had delivered impossible political gains to the Centre, he was too large a persona and too much in control in the state. Quite unlike the garden variety Congress CM of today. That's just one reason why the Centre chose a practically unknown and mild - almost unwilling - Rosaiah. There were other reasons as well. Rosaiah was a YSR loyalist which meant that any dissidents who showed up will eventually fall in line. Besides, the man showed no desire to wear Destiny's shoes. Perfect.

Having made their choice, the strong central leadership of the Congress implemented it with an iron hand. YSR's son Jaganmohan Reddy was none too pleased. His supporters created storms in a few afternoon teacups. He was, therefore, summoned to Delhi where he was retold that Rahul baba wanted him at the Centre. He must join the elite club of Congress scions and await his time. Perhaps - and I'm speculating here - he received some empathy from Scindia Jr and Pilot Jr. At any rate, Reddy Jr returned from Delhi much more sober and willing to linger over the stalemate.

Within weeks, Rosaiah seemed more visibly determined. He made a few surprise moves, including a visit to Bangalore and a photo-op with B.S. Yeddyurappa. Now. Did the Congress top guns plan this? If they did, then hats off to them. What a move!
For those who came in late, here is what was happening: on the surface, a newly crowned Congress CM of one Indian state was paying a courtesy call to the BJP CM of a neighbouring state. This in itself is unusual. On top of that, Rosaiah arrived with a pleasing ringtone for Yeddy:
Cut the Bellary Reddys down to size,
You are the king, claim your prize

You see, the mining barons of Bellary - the Bellary Reddys - were underwear friends with YSR. Significant if you know where to place Bellary on the Indian map. You guessed it! Right on the Karnataka-AP border. The Bellary Reddys had their business stakes distributed between the two states. So during the YSR era, the Reddys had a super-close CM to take care of their interests in AP. At the same time, they virtually controlled the BJP government in Karnataka. One might say that they had their bread buttered on both sides. That would be incorrect. They had their butter breaded on all sides.
One can imagine the mining excesses that happened in the recent past. 'Mine, mine, mine,' they said. Rather refreshing when you consider that most people say, 'Me, me, me!'
So. They mined with impunity and nobody minded. But then a chopper came crashing down and, as we've already discovered, a Mr. Rosaiah left his calling card at the Vidhana Soudha.
Not surprisingly, B. S. Yeddyurappa - such a clean guy when you consider the company he keeps - went on an overdrive to rein in the Bellary Redddys. He transferred errant officials, imposed a new levy on mining trucks and publicly hinted at inappropriate business practices in Bellary.
We all know the public drama that followed. For weeks, the state machinery in Karnataka lay paralyzed, awaiting an end to the Yeddy versus Reddys battle. We all know that the flood-affected populace faded from public and media memory. They did not get the relief and support they deserved, but Rosaiah - the darkest horse in our political landscape today - has delivered some relief and support to Yeddy. He asked for a CBI inquiry into the illegal mining activities of the Reddys. At the same time, the Supreme Court of India has passed a stronger indictment: Guilty. The SC also recommended a complete halt to mining activities by the Reddys and seconded Rosaiah's demand for a CBI inquiry.

This has led the Yeddy-likers to hope that the Bellary Reddys might fall after all. Of course, we have a long and glorious history of punishing the powerful for their sins. So we can expect justice to be delivered. Soon.
Actually, despite my deep cynicism, I hope that something resembling justice is delivered in this instance. Why? Take a trip through Bellary, (nearby) Hospet and then further north in Karnataka - through towns like Bidar. See what mining and miners are doing to an already impoverished land. How and why does India's mango man (aam aadmi) accept this? That's the eternal riddle.

There's another - almost Shakespearean - reason why the Bellary Reddys must fall. Because YSR - who was felled by the Gods of Nature and Technology - was standing on the cusp of political immortality. He was a giant. So his fall must precipitate the fall of others.