Kafka and Orwell: The rest of this title is redacted by PMO

Kafkaesque
ˌkafkəˈɛsk/
adjective
 
  1. characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.
    “a Kafkaesque bureaucratic office”

 

A long long time ago, in a land not so far away (that’s how you start stories, right?) there was a place where planning and power resounded every day. Then came a new king (with no clothes) along with his acronyms and abbreviations and changed the place. The nobles hailed him, the merchants hailed him (and financed his campaigns and provided magical carpet for him to fly away to far lands), the poor hailed him for they thought he was one of them, and the people in other lands hailed him for he looked strong and said strong things, the sheep hailed him for he looked like one of their own, the wolves hailed him for they knew he was one of their own, the cows hailed him for they thought they could cross the road in peace now. So basically everyone hailed him. And whosoever didn’t, well, they were beaten black and blue and orange and asked repeatedly to move to the neighbouring lands of anarchy. So keeping in mind that I don’t want to live in anarchy, let one thing be absolutely clear, the following account is of a lowly cog in an imaginary system where he and his work are entirely worthless and unimportant. Any parallels to real life scenarios and events are the result of the herbs you have been inhaling (or the ‘normal’ air if you are in Delhi). So kindly treat this as you treat George Orwell’s 1984/2002 (what do you mean there isn’t a book by that name, of course, there is, give it a decade or two). And feel free to break your own device in case it gets too much. Nothing and no one else, especially the writer.


Day 1

The idea that the bureaucracy is apolitical doesn’t hold true, now more than ever. Political leanings are worn on sleeves for some reason. As if the current dispensation is going to continue forever. This Kafkaesque dystopia sometimes reminds one, if the policymakers themselves can’t be bipartisan and untouched by propaganda, what of the ordinary people. Sartre once said, “Politics is a science. You can demonstrate that you are right and that others are wrong.”

Day 2

The work seems to go on slower than ever. All the claims of bureaucratic efficiency go down the drain with one day here. But at the same time, the state continues to function. It functions well or not can be debated. The apathy and disrespect for knowledge and intellect seem to perlocate even here.

Day 3

The days are long and monotonous, and maybe one needs to wonder if this tiresome toil contributes the most to the notoriety the iron frame has acquired.

A self-criticism which I will have to accept as well is that we as academicians, intellectuals, and ‘experts’ while decrying the state, we do not strive to be a part of it. We have assumed that the personal is political but we fail to appropriate this as politics as personal. We all, in various capabilities, have run away from the state and becoming a part of it. To paraphrase Tyrion Lannister, “One needs to break the wheel” but one also needs to realize that unless you understand the wheel and are a part of it, you cannot break it. Not effectively, at least. The rise of right is also synonymous with a collective rejection of regime by revolutionaries. We have abandoned the state and the state has done the same to us. For different reasons, we all have rejected power; some as a sign of moral superiority and others for the less virtuous reason of comfort of academia and activism. And this void has been successfully appropriated by the right. I think there is also a collective fear of the corruptive ability of power which we all are afraid of. Which subconsciously guides us away from being actively involved with the state. Which makes us at best distant observers and at worse impeders. But I digress, it is not just us but the idea of the state and its institutions which have decayed. The highest echelon of policymaking is a proof of it.

Day 5

The propaganda of Nehru and his ilk being a Muslim has taken effect into the very hearts of the people. I don’t know whether to admire rather grudgingly at the efficiency of right-wing propaganda or get disgusted by its substance. The Muslims are consistently seen as the others, consciously or subconsciously in conversations. The discussions surrounding them sounds if not hostile, at least malafide in nature.

Day 10

The travesty that is digital India makes one want to jump off a cliff in sheer frustration. It is literally making people’s life worse as opposed to what it was envisaged to do. It takes more than a week to just get an ID card made. Keeping in mind that it grants access to the highest policy-making body in the country, it is a matter of concern and of extreme inconvenience to someone who is entering the establishment for the first time.

Day 13

Although impunity comes more and more easily the longer you stay in an establishment, and I am no stranger to this side effect, the collective respect for procedure and protocol ingrained in me by various institutions and people help counter the effects. Rana Dasgupta, one of my favourite authors, recently wrote on the demise of the nation-state in a globalised world. This demise, true or not, is slow. Because the power of the state is very much visible in every facet of life here. At a time where every institution is ceasing to function the way it was supposed to and giving way to a roughshod executive which neither believe in playing by the rules nor accepts the limitations imposed by law, the future looks more and more Orwellian. I can already see Orwell smirking and having a laugh in his grave. Or maybe he was reborn as an annoying mosquito surveilling all of us.

Day 18

To have hope in a post-truth dystopia is one of the highest forms of resistance. It is tough, and few attempts to hold on to it. It is easier to just give in to the subservience the state demands every moment and forego the illusion of freedom. The existence of a picture where cricketers are juxtaposed on the legendary scene from Mahabharata with Arjun riding the chariot driven by Krishna. The charioteer and the warriors are the legendary (former) Indian captain and the (current) captain respectively, while the four horses are four Pakistani cricketers. The not-so-subtle pseudo-warfare of cricket and nationalism is quite apparent by it. (Ashraf Ali, Hamara Hindustan Zindabad tha, Zindabad Hai aur Zindabad Rahega)

Day 23

Although some events made me realize it’s not that the bureaucracy just doesn’t care at all, there still exists a basic level of concern, which might more be a product of humanity rather than official concerns, but I might be wrong here. Maybe all is not lost yet, although there is a high possibility that this is the naive eternal optimist inside me talking but I still have hope. One commenter said today that I have spent my life here, first at planning commission then at Niti Aayog. He quipped that by the next year it will become “Aniti”(immoral) Aayog. Sometimes you get to hear precious gems like these in office and it makes your day.

Day 30

What do you do when you can’t find some remarks/notings or files? You go deep into your typical Indian Uncle mode and then start recounting “in our times we used to….” and like other conversations starting from these words, it is also equally annoying.
Also, despite the non-existence of any mechanism for attendance the requirement is pretty high. I wonder how do they actually review it? Probably the same way the government does everything else, as it suits itself.

Day 41

The system of the state is extremely dependent on hierarchies and files. They might be called bread and butter of the bureaucracy. I should name one of the books (out of the several) that I plan to write (eventually) after this. Hierarchies and Files: Bread, Butter and Jam of Indian Bureaucracy makes for a compelling read.

Day 49

Things you hear at the office:

Log apna paisa Bank me nhi daal rahe hain kyun ki kya pata Mo** ka Dimaag kab fir jaaye” (People aren’t depositing their money in banks because no one knows when the emperor loses his shit again)

Online online sarkaar kar to rahi hai par online kuch dikkat ho to bank ke chakkar kaatte raho” (hashtag Digital India)


A popular anecdote and a snide at the older bureaucracy after independence features instances of officers who used to put the file up on a lump of files when an officer marks it as “put up”. (put up refers to sending the file to the superior officer for comments/remarks/further action in a bureaucratic set up)

“Jo Kahin nahi ho Sakta wo Bihar me ho Sakta hai” (Which can happen nowhere, can happen in Bihar)

Day 58

When a Senior Officer says that it is the convention that a Brahmin isn’t sent in the Department of Social Justice, one can see caste in its full glory at the highest policy-making body in the country. His statement is followed by the quip, that a “Dalit is sent at a Dalit’s” which appalled me, to say the least. This is exactly the kind of a ghettoisation I have always been against. Ministry of Social Justice cannot be handled by a Brahmin or a ‘Savarna’ is as dangerous a notion as some other department can’t be handled by a Dalit. This is the kind of notion which believes that a Doctor or Engineer who is from ‘quota’ is not as good as a ‘merit-wallah’. Education is seen as a one-stop cure for most of the evils of the society. It’s apparent here that is not the case always. I had heard that the older you get, the more conservative you become; I can see it in its blatant glory at the heart of the government. Misogyny and casual sexism is something I sometimes ignore, giving the benefit of doubt to people who have grown up in a certain social order, internalized patriarchy, and have never been sensitized or taught/told what is wrong with their thought process and action. But this not-so-subtle casteism is not something along the same lines. Some of the best gems come when the coterie of these public officials sit together discussing and gossipping and spewing stuff in general with minimum filters. There is also a great deal of regionalism and stereotypes and prejudices apparent and out in the open in the atmosphere.

Day 59

The impunity and disregard towards the internship itself aghast me. These senior officials are unable to understand why there is a demand for an internship at this space. And the failure to understand this phenomenon is attributed to branding and the certificate one earns from here. The general disregard which the state itself shows towards its academics is reflected in the individual stances of its ‘pawns’ as well. The high academic qualifications are seen as a kind of wastage here; although the percentages achieved in the infamous cookie cutting examination system of CBSE is still admired.


One of the important things which I did throughout my stint, was watched and read everything I could. Everything the state would not approve of (a glorious example is reading Nandini Sundar’s “The Burning Forest”, containing almost everything which would be anathema to the state). 

The citadels of power and planning are a great place to understand the Great Indian Circus and see the emperor in all his naked glory.

The old, famous and savage satire by Harishankar Parsai talks about how the wolves convince the sheep that they would be the best fit to protect them. They win the election when democracy arrives in the jungle. And the first rule that they promulgate is that every wolf would get one full sheep for breakfast and dinner and be considering the need to keep the lunch light (for health issues) half a sheep for lunch.


 

In a land not so far away, the illusion seems to break a little, more people can see that the emperor is butt naked and clueless. The nobles hail him, the merchants hail him (and finance his campaigns and provide magical carpet for him to fly away to far lands), the poor hail him for they think he is one of them, and the people in other lands hail him for he looks strong and says strong things, the sheep hail him for he looks like one of their own, the wolves hail him for they know he is one of their own, the cows hail him for they thought they could cross the road in peace now. So basically, a lot of people hail him still. Even I have to say, hail emperor and hail his right hand Gujju uncle who (is probably ringing my doorbell as I write this) is also great and merciful and a great Shah (I mean as in the Shah of Persia) and will not make me disappear like a certain judge who foolishly thought of himself  more powerful than Shah (of Persia). All hail Shah (of Persia) and the supreme emperor of the land of the golden sparrow (okay fine, orange sparrow).

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A poet’s privilege

aged-antique-classic-429246Privilege, privilege all around. Sweet words and even better sound.

Love and war, rape and fear. Are all ideas that men hold dear.

To speak, to try, to bow, to cry.

All are worthy of shame, if not done by a beautiful dame.

Life and strife, girlfriend or wife. Day or night, they should be worthy of sight.

Allowed to care but not to dare.

Dark or light, bow before our might.

To think is blasphemy, to protest a sedition. On top of that, you’re not doing the right rendition.

My protest in itself is a privilege. Devil in me staring at that cleavage.

But hope is a good thing, no one can resist its bling.

To dream is better, if not today than later.

From shout, to scream, to do so freely is still a dream.

But witches or muggles. The end is near for all our struggles.

So smile and smile, in your own best style.

The night is darkest, just before the dawn. That’s what I was told by my Mom.

My privilege speaks, maybe foul it reeks. But we were told the world was never for the weaks.

So I want to change such a world. Without violence, without blood.

So the day will come, maybe not today but in years some.

The horizon will be bright, and we’ll all watch that sight.

Happiness can be found, if only you try to look around.

Life is tragic, but words are magic.

They heal you, from left and right. Prove that might is not ever right.

So hug and love and kiss and care. Shout from the rooftops, that “Yes I dare“.

-Mayank Manish Pathak

 

Tiranga, dissent, and nationalism for an ordinary Indian

Speak, for your lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still yours,
Your upright body is yours–
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flames are hot, the iron is red,
Mouths of locks have begun to open,
Each chain’s skirt has spread wide.

Speak, this little time is plenty
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, for truth is still alive–
Speak, say whatever is to be said.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz

The above immortal lines are my solace in times of peril and conflict, of anger and fear. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I start with them. Yesterday, I was stuck in traffic, and at that moment of exasperation (you can’t do anything about traffic, especially Delhi traffic) I looked from the window and saw the Tricolor (Tiranga) blowing in the wind at the top of Grand Hyatt. This not-so-simple piece of tricolor always has elicited a grin and a salute. Whether at a screen or at the central park in Connaught circle. I have childhood memories of standing up to attention every time the national anthem was played on TV or in school. Nationalism, patriotism, and admiration for the flag weren’t imposed, it came naturally.

Fast-forward 15 years. A glimpse of the tricolor in hands of someone scares me. Shouts of “I bow to thee, Mother” (Vande Mataram) creates alarm in the back of my mind. Orange (the color of valor and piousness) has become more a color of danger. People advise me not to speak against anyone in public, not to share anything controversial on social media, to stay silent. If I don’t stand when the national anthem is played, every atom of my body stays in constant vigilance (Prof. Moody reference, anyone?). In every academic conference, film screening, stage play, musical performance, debate or even a normal lecture, I fear when the door opens loudly. I fear armed men entering from that gate. I fear for my safety, my teacher’s safety as well the safety of my friends. Looking over my shoulder has become a habit.

I’ve friends preparing for the armed forces. Friends in the armed forces. Family members in the armed forces. Friend’s parents in the armed forces. YES, WE GET THE POINT. MOVE ON. Nope. I’m sorry. You don’t get the point. Never before have I ever been inclined to flaunt mine (or the people around me) patriotism. I never needed to prove it to anyone. I have never been compelled to mention this relation, this connection to insulate myself. This statement in itself is a fact, that my dissent, my disagreement, my opinion, is enough to earn me a tag of being an anti-national traitor (there are a variety of adjectives and idioms, take your pick). I’m expected, rather forced to prove my loyalty to the country, every day, every hour. In the street, in the classroom, in the movie theater, in the park, in my house, even in my writings. The Reason? People have confused my loyalty to the country with loyalty to the government.

Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”
– Mark Twain

I remember reading once, that the idea of India is different according to every individual. So, in short, there are more than a billion ideas about India. About how it is, how it was and how it should be. And it’s not about which ‘idea of India’ is right or wrong. It is about all those ideas existing together, peacefully. Your idea most likely will be different than mine. Should that mean, I should go and live in Pakistan or you should? Isn’t this wonderful nation large enough for both of us? For both our ideas? Is the idea of ‘dissent’ or disagreement such anathema to you that you’d prefer to beat the shit out of me instead of trying to persuade me by logic, reason, argument (peaceful), discussion, and debate? Just because you see a glass as half full and I see it as half empty isn’t reason enough to break the glass itself. (or each other, just saying) If you don’t understand what dissent is, I’m here to help. Not because I think of myself as superior to you, or because I’m fluent in both Hindi and English. I would love to help you because that’s one of the ethics I was brought up with, ‘help anyone in need’. No terms or conditions applied.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
–  Martin Niemöller

People have different ideas about any and everything. It’s a beautiful thing. A child might think of clay as something to eat, I might see it as raw material for a sculpture and you might see it as just clay, nothing more. What’s the harm in letting me think the way I do? And if you think it’s wrong to still, you are free to try and make me see your point. That’s it. You do it every day without even realizing. This is what dissent is all about. Having different opinions. And this applies to all. You can dissent against family, teachers, strangers, leaders, government, society or friends. The only kind of dissent which should not be acceptable is the one with violence involved. Is that really that tough to understand?

What’s happening today around me and you, and what has been happening for a while now isn’t impulsive. It’s not random. It’s not happening in a moment of passion. The day you’re able to connect the dots you’ll not need me to explain anything. Nationalism for millions of everyday Indians involves honoring the national flag and anthem (in their own ways) and being grateful for the country we all live in. It involves helping each other, making it a better place to live for future generations and make it something to be proud of. Because nothing is born great, let’s be clear about that. You have to make it great. That’s all nationalism is all about. BUT the moment your idea of ‘nationalism’ involves beating everyone who doesn’t agree with you, (teachers, students, journalists, elderly, differently-abled, women, transsexuals) hurling abuses, making death threats, molestation, groping and rape threats; you become a danger to the idea of the nation itself. A million chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ won’t redeem you.

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times.”

― Bertolt Brecht

I am not even close to stopping. And none of us should be. The day you stop, there will be no tomorrow. So keep speaking, keep protesting, keep resisting. We can’t let a handful be the ‘contractors of nationalism’. We can’t let our academic spaces shrink to monotonous monologs. Keep the fire and tradition of asking for justice alive. Sing, dance, speak, act, hug, shout, discuss, debate and argue (again, peacefully). There is a song, a very old yet very powerful song which reminds me of what I hold dear to myself. It was banned at the time when it was first released. I believe there is nothing more appropriate to sing today, tonight or tomorrow.

ज़रा इस मुल्क के रहबरों को बुलाओ
ये कूचे ये गलियां ये मंज़र दिखाओ
जिन्हें नाज़ है हिन्द पर उनको लाओ
जिन्हे नाज़ है हिन्द पर वो कहाँ हैं
कहाँ हैं, कहाँ हैं, कहाँ हैं

-Sahir Ludhianvi

 

Why Trump is good for the World

“For the night is dark and full of terrors”

In the 20 years that I’ve existed on this Earth, never has it looked so surreal. It’s a series of nightmares which don’t seem to stop. At this point, the apocalypse would be a welcome relief.(Sam & Dean are you listening?)
Today, I’m reminded of Einstein and his famous words: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

I don’t know what the world is high on, but I want none of it. But I’m digressing. I was here to tell you how an orange blob, who now sits on the most powerful throne of the modern world (After Putin, the puppeteer obviously), can do some good.( I know right, even I have a hard time believing it) Before I go ahead, I’d like to assure you I’m completely sober (Mummy swear).

I start with something that had been happening as I write this. The millions of women (and men), marching in anti-Trump rallies, not just in the good old ‘Murica, but all over the world. This kind of public protest didn’t happen for Obama (come on, that guy is a bear hug, personified) and probably won’t happen for anyone else *sneeze* Putin *sneeze*. So, literally, one of the first thing that Trump managed to do as soon as he became the POTUS, he united people all around the globe, against him. It also brought women’s rights and issues to the forefront (which was much needed tbh). He also has brought the racist, sexist and neo-Nazi features of not just America but the entire western world in the limelight. Well, I say it was about damn time. He also is a poster-boy for what happens when you don’t care enough about democracy and voting (only 30% of Americans voted for him). So, next time you don’t vote, take a good look at what happens and who gets to grab your…… sorry PG-13 content.

 

kitten-wallpapers-20
Kitten, I meant to say grab your kitten.

 

I’m not sure how else to put this, but Trump has some pretty bad ideas. His pied-sky solutions are exactly what you’d expect from someone with no government experience. He’s casually proposed war crimes without even realizing it. He has all the political instincts of a stoned teenager, and for this reason, there are a lot of promises he’s made that simply won’t happen … starting with his signature move.

As one of the writers at Cracked points out, “Imagine walking into an airport, screaming that you should get to fly the plane, and then, to your complete dumbfuckery, having that demand fulfilled. Suddenly you’re sitting at 40,000 feet in front of a massive jumble of switches and lights and have no clue what to do. That would be a nightmare. For everyone on board.” Yup, that’s Trump for you. It’s been said that an easy litmus test for politicians and leaders is that if you would have them as your kid’s babysitter. Nope. Not him. (or even Modi) So, how did he became the babysitter of a country, you ask. My money is on Putin. That’s where the CIA is betting. And the FBI, NSA, NRO. The list goes on. But it also gives a clear view of what is wrong with the system. It is a glimpse of what kind of people gets churned out if your system is fucked up enough. I mean look at the Cabinet. It is filled with, let’s be honest, dumbfucks and people who think climate change isn’t real and evolution is an opinion. (and Big Bang was God’s idea of nuke).

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Where is Dumbledore’s Army when we need it?

The people around me who are saying let’s wait and watch, he hasn’t done anything yet; you’re utterly wrong. The moment you start taking this whole thing as normal or anywhere close to it (like sun-to-earth-distance close to it) you start normalizing Trump and everything he stands for. You start normalizing, sexual assault, sexism, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and above all, stupidity. If you think, you’re an Indian and you don’t get affected, you’ve no idea, my friend. The entire world is several steps closer to the WWIII because an orange Cheetos has access to Nuclear weapons and his signature style is firing things (He fired all the Obama appointees he could, even before the inauguration). And that’s not even the worse thing. If you’ve anyone whom you care about, living in the USA, you need to start worrying. Also if it’s not too late to point out, Trump’s rise is the almost mirror image of that of  Hitler (that dude with the funny mustache) and the Third Reich. Plus his rise has emboldened neo-Nazi and alt-right (that’s not a computer shortcut) groups throughout Europe and the rest of the world. There is a triple digit increase in hate crimes in the US. People around the world are sponsoring Nazi Swastika proudly (what’s wrong with you people?) and performing Nazi salutes. ( I thought we took care of this in the ’40s).

But above all, it’s a moment of introspection. The kind you have when you wake up in a desert, tied to a cactus and a dead clown and you’ve no idea how you got there. So, pause and think. Because it’s not just USA or India, the entire world is on a downward spiral towards a hole. And one must realize, that in today’s globalized world there is no place you’re safe, especially if nukes start raining. Hallelujah.

So, that’s it. Donald Trump is President of the USA. He knows the launch codes. And he hasn’t tweeted them yet. So far, so good.

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Why is Sheldon always right?

A letter to the educated, liberal, men

i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty.
before I’ve called them intelligent or brave.
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of
when your spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like, you are resilient
or, you are extraordinary.
not because i don’t think you’re pretty.
but because you are so much more than that
-rupi kaur

When we think too much and feel too little, we become the demons we’ve been running away from, our whole life. When the following quote was being written in the scriptures, “यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता:” ( where women are worshiped, there is the abode of god) I don’t remember reading any riders. I don’t remember any asterisk at the end of the sentence mentioning that only those women are to be worshiped which conform to your (quite patriarchal and misogynist, if I may add) definition. Do the god(s) actively avoid the women wearing skirts or going out late at night? And if they do, how can someone so misogynist be a god? Similarly, I can’t give respect to anyone who doesn’t respect women, whatever his age or authority.

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How can someone claim that they’re not responsible for what happens to the other half of the population? I believe it is my fault. When you choose a misogynist to be your leader, when you vote him to power, when you look the other way when someone else molests a woman, when you don’t call out the guy leering at a woman’s breast in metro, when you don’t stop the degenerates whistling at women, when you call your ex a bitch, when you complain that women are getting more privileges than you, when you complain of empty women-only metro coaches, when you don’t fight for women; you, my friend are at fault and so am I. You and I are the educated, liberal, men who can make a difference. We’ve got the inherent privilege to speak and be the things which, sadly, a woman will have to fight very hard for.

If you don’t get what I’m saying, this guy does a brilliant job of explaining it. Do watch.

If you’ve asked a friend to call you freely whenever they need help, just like me, then today’s the time to help. Today is the day we need to be the voice of our friends. The same friends who are too scared to walk alone in broad daylight, who prefer to stand in a women’s only coach rather than sit in one filled with men, who are mandated to reach hostels before 9, who are scared of cabs, autos, buses, who are tired, who are scared of ALL MEN. Because the ones they’ve trusted have broken that trust, too many times.

Yes, it is difficult to be a man as well, especially if you live in India. Yes, sometimes it is the fairer sex who is wrong. Yes, you face the same restrictions as your sister. Yes, there will be women who will wrongly accuse you, even call you pervert. If someone is starved for millennia, I believe they can have as many cheat days as they want.(If you don’t understand, there’s a comment box at the end)
There are times when it’s not just our fault. When men aren’t taught about periods, when they are grossed by sanitary pads, when there is virtually no sex-education (apart from Xvideos), there is no mention of consent, and when patriarchy is promoted by women themselves (typical mother-in-law is a classic example), men can’t be the ones solely at fault. But do you become corrupt just because the system has loopholes or you try to fix those gaps? So, take the blame. After all, we’re part of the problem.

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It’s unusual to watch, a man being grabbed by the pussy; and not the other way around (courtesy Stephen Colbert)

So, stand for them. Stand if you want to prove that not all men are worse than animals. Stand in front of the one who is too buffed up and scares you as well. Stand in front of that dozen who whistled, even when you’re alone. Stand when another makes a rape joke. Stand when your elders are sexist. Because the problem isn’t that all men; the problem is, enough men exist to make life hell for women.(And you asked why that feminist-type is angry, huh) The system and the people in authority aren’t going to stand up for women, we’ll have to. Not because they need us. Women are stronger than we ever will be (Do I even need to explain?). We need to stand up, because it is the decent thing to do, and it is the right thing to do. That should be reason enough. Also because as it turns out women aren’t raping themselves (Surprising, right? Mind blown)

The ‘myth’ of mythology

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts.
That hope always triumphs over experience.
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
– Robert Fulghum

To everyone, who doesn’t love history (it’s a shame, though), here’s a fun fact. Our world is made upon myths, stories that are too grand to believe sometimes. I grew up with mythology, literally. It was an unspoken rule to listen to stories every night when my Nana (maternal grandfather) came home from work. From Ram & Krishna to Buddha and Prophet, I heard all and then some more. For everyone who loves stories, myths are alluring beyond this world. And aren’t the finest tales we know, the best-known stories, the most familiar narratives we recite, myths. The myth of Hogwarts, of a place in a galaxy far far away, of a door to Narnia, of dragons, unicorns, fairies, angels and demons, and whatnot.

But why are myths important? Are they important enough to read a thousand words by an unknown writer and waste maybe fifteen minutes? Yes, they are. Because as it turns out, myths and history have a habit of exchanging places. After a certain point of time has passed, some myths become history; some historical facts become myths. We all know the story of how Newton discovered gravitational force (not gravity, it was always there) after an apple fell on his head. Right? But is that true? No one can confirm. This is how a myth, becomes an accepted universal fact. A story which is told time and again in different languages and different places. There was another man who went to the same place as Newton. His name was S. Ramanujan. Scientists today, study his theories and formulae to study black holes. Pretty damn cool, right? Here’s another fun fact. He claimed that a goddess used to come in his dreams and tell him all these formulae. That’s why he himself couldn’t prove most of his theories in his lifetime. This is a documented fact. Twenty years from now, it’ll become a myth. Where no one would believe it and Google it to clarify. I’m neither trying to prove I’m a raconteur (which I am, tbh) nor showing how the best of scientists have believed in God(s) (I would have been an atheist if not for my Nana).

Today, Aleppo is a place which is in ruins. Most of us know its story. It’s a fact as to how a bustling, happening city became a war zone. Give it enough time and Aleppo would become a myth, a tragedy, a sad story. Why? Because in due time, there’d be nothing to show that there stood a great, bustling city full of people. All that would be left is ruins. And future generations would call Aleppo a myth just like Atlantis. It’s a saying that ‘History is written by victors‘. Even today, most of us don’t know which side of the story to believe upon. As time and again has been proved, you definitely can’t rely on the state. Ipso facto, no one might believe that Aleppo was part of history. Such things really happened. People died. And not enough people cared to stop them from dying.

There is a phrase which is painted on the walls of my university, “In the dark times”. I really like that phrase. Apart from being too true about our surroundings it also is a symbol of awareness. Understanding the history, understanding myth or the stories we know is important because otherwise they get obscured, or worse, appropriated and altered. Ram was never a hero, Ramayana never a quest. It was the story of a man. A virtuous, righteous and extraordinary man, but a man nevertheless. He had his faults, like all of us and he made mistakes like all of us. It was such a powerful tale that it managed to cross across space and time and be heard again and again, in different versions, different dialects. But today Ram stands as a god who can’t be challenged, can’t be critiqued. Who stands on a pedestal so high that even pointing a finger is a crime. We are at such a time that, we’ve made another similar hero. He leads the Indian nation, as of now. Questioning him is a cardinal sin. His every action or decision worshiped and held in reverence. How did we reach here I ask myself sometimes? You should too.

One of my idols (not a stone one, mind you) is a famous Indian economist. He won the Nobel prize for his work. He in his wonderful book ‘The argumentative Indian’ narrates a personal story where he disagrees with the logic of Krishna (the demigod) and tells his teacher the same. His teacher replies that one is free to disagree, but one must disagree with respect. And just like him, I disagree with my idol (because Geeta strikes a chord maybe) but I do so with respect. To disagree is not to disrespect. We have lost this simple truth along the way. People lose friendships, divides are created in families over one’s perspective or opinion. It would be worthwhile to recount the tale (using myth again) of the four blind men who were sent to discover the elephant. They all were right, and they all were wrong. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Devdutt Patnaik, the famous author, is a good place to start if one were to look for myths. His retelling of myths, like others of his field, makes more sense. But who is to say that what is history and what’s not. We just discovered that the Harappan civilization is 8000 years old, older than any other civilization. (friendly reminder, I’m a history major and it’s my job to bore people with such facts) So maybe, one day we might be able to prove that Ram and Krishna and Hercules are more than protagonists of their stories, that they are part of history. But their acts turned them worthy enough to be heroes and to be remembered millennia after they lived. It should be in one’s nature to be curious and doubt everything and ask for proof, even from people in authority. Especially from people in authority. Because it is our heritage and will be our legacy. The art of asking questions dates back to the beginning of writing itself. So don’t shy away (despite CBSE compelling you otherwise for 12 long years). To prove my point I quote the Nasadiya Sukta from the Rigveda (arguably the world’s most ancient sacred text).

Who knows, then, where everything arose?
Who can say how Creation happened?
The gods themselves came after Creation.

Then He, whether He created all that is or whether
He did not;
He who looks upon everything from the highest heaven-
He alone knows.Or maybe He too does not.

 

 

The rise of pop-culture in India

“Live Long and Prosper”
“May the Force be with You”
“One ring to rule them all”
“You’re a wizard, Harry”
“A Lannister always pays his debts”

If you’re able to recognize any of the above dialogues, then I don’t think you need an introduction to what pop-culture means. But if you still do, and for the layman out there let me define it as best as I can. Pop-culture stands for popular culture and was first coined in the 19th century and was associated with ‘poor education’ and ‘lower classes’ (my inner history nerd keeps unleashing itself). Ironically, today the term is usually associated with mass media (TV shows, movies, games, etc.). I think it’s safe to say, most of the people born in the 90s and after that, are well aware of it (with this I end pop-culture 101).

Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter series (and Fantastic Beasts as well, can’t leave that out, can we), Percy Jackson, Supernatural, Sherlock, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, Game of Thrones, Narcos, Transformers, Fast and the Furious (even Fate of the Furious), Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, Marvel & DC universe. You name it and it’s there. Even the multitude of memes on Internet and site like Tumblr (owned by Supernatural fandom) are part of this pop-culture. Pop-culture evolved after the second World War, as a means of hope and entertainment for the millions of people who had seen the most destructive conflict of their times. With its advent came biggies like Stan Lee (God of geeks worldwide). Who then created iconic characters like Spider-man which have stayed alive decades later (Spiderman:Homecoming trailer is so cool, btw). These characters were although primarily aimed at children, but people of all ages readily embraced them. With a little nudge from Capitalism the comic book industry became so humongous that, today, just Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU is larger than entire countries GDPs. But the picture has not always been rosy and comfortable for pop-culture in general. Many times it has almost become extinct, but then came franchise like Star Wars or Harry Potter which gave it the required push and brought it back to life.

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Star Wars,anyone?

Pop-culture in India isn’t a new development. It all started with Superman. But the limited reach of media like TV and limited access to comics made sure that pop culture didn’t have much influence in the sub-continent. Everything changed when liberalization happened in 1991. TV sets found their way to homes, children started reading comics in herds and Spiderman and Superman started becoming household names. But this doesn’t mean that India didn’t have its own culture of comic books and TV shows. Names like ‘Nagraj’ and ‘Super Commando Dhruv’ might not mean anything to us but, people born in the 80s and before (basically our parents and uncles and aunts) remember them fondly.

But our generation is the one that defines pop-culture in India. Whether books, comics (yes, there’s a difference, Google it), movies, music, TV shows or graphic content, we have been the biggest consumers. I mean, who doesn’t remember religiously watching Pokemon at 5 PM and Beyblade or Digimon after. We’re but too familiar with Powerpuff girls, Courage the cowardly dog, Power Rangers (have you seen the trailer yet?) or just plain old Shin-chan (although there’s nothing old or plain about it). Reading Archies comics or Asterix (remember Deepika in the movie Tamasha?) or the magical world of Harry Potter (JK rowling is our queen) we have all been introduced to the world which is magical, to say the least. We’ve cried when Dobby died, laughed when Joey didn’t share food or Chandler’s sarcasm was on point, idolized Captain America, hated/loved Snape, watched Goku be the best, Dean Winchester die and come back (I’ve lost count, honestly), related with Sheldon or Spock and simply adored Benedict (was it crumplehorn or cucumberbitch? Those who get the joke have my utmost respect) as eccentric but brilliant Sherlock; in short, we’ve lived their lives, felt what they felt and relied on them in times of despair and hopelessness (like when Trump won).

The next addition to this fandom universe was Comic Con. Although the ones in India are nowhere as close to the San Diego Comic Con (the Mecca of pop culture) but they’ve been fairly popular and have seen major footfall. People like Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes) and Kristian Nairn (Hodor) have been guests. As the purchasing power of the middle class has risen (not counting for demonetization) the ability and willingness to come to such events and buy stuff has grown exponentially. Another major part of Comic-con has been the cosplayers, people who dress up as their favorite character. From simply wearing an overcoat and muffler (Sherlock) to the elaborate hand-made costumes depicting a character from Skyrim which takes months to create; you can find them all. The popularity of Manga and Anime in India is also explicitly visible there. Ask about Naruto or Death Note or Tokyo Ghoul, you’ll surely find fans running in hundreds if not thousands. Such events also present an opportunity for startups to showcase their work and create a consumer base without much effort. These events also provide artists with a platform to showcase their work, which is a great thing, especially in a country like India.

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Dr. Who fans give me a cheer

 

But what does this advent of pop-culture really means? Does it mean that we’re becoming potatoes (I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I take it as a compliment) or becoming dumb? Does it mean that we’re losing our ‘culture’ and becoming lost in the consumerism imported from the west? Or it simply means that we’d prefer to see Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed instead of watching Shahrukh in Raees? (I’d watch both if you ask me) I believe the answer is simple. People, young people like us especially, throughout the ages have been the ones who have dared to hope, dared to differ and dared to rebel. We continue this marvelous tradition via pop culture. So when Trump becomes the president-elect of the USA, we respond by quoting Harry Potter (where Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic, and you thought Harry potter was far away from reality?), when we are depressed or lose someone we quote the wise words of Dumbledore, when we feel hope slithering away we are reminded that “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” (Shawshank Redemption), or when we feel different and cast out, we’re reminded of Luna who made us be proud of our individuality. These various comics, sit-coms, movies, games, teach us the values which are a staple of our generation; compassion, acceptance, bravery, rebelliousness, friendship, intellect, selflessness, and above all love. The pop-culture has helped mold our set of ethics, has provided us with a moral guidance in a world which is increasingly filled with racist,sexist, hypocrite, bigots. So, we’ve embraced it. Our conversations are incomplete without sarcasm, puns, and popular references. Our writings are influenced by it, our music taste impacted by it. We’ve learned a great deal out of things which were and are still considered a waste of time. Thanks to the pop-culture we’ve evolved, made new friends, accepted diversity, fought for what’s right and learned how to love. If that isn’t a good influence, I don’t know what is? I can go on and on, but I’d like to end by stating that our lives are molded by the pop-culture around us and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, therefore there’s only one direction for both pop-culture and us, as Buzz Lightyear says “To infinity and beyond”.