Sunday, April 28, 2013

Home after far too long

Ox-eye daisies
I haven't  been home since the end of winter. Actually, since mid-feb to the day before yesterday, I have only been home for a week.

And it has been hard.

True, I was with mum and sis for a bit, with Mian for a bit, with colleagues and friends for another bit. But I realised this  time just how much I love and miss our physical home.

Sour cherries
It was a joy to be back. I called a cab for the last leg of my journey back, and in that one hour received enough gossip to put me up-to-date with the village. I drank in the landscape. I made bread. I swept, dusted, mopped, laundered. I went and collected a pup who was ecstatic to see me. I met one of her daughters, who incredibly remembered me.

All the folks I met on the way were glad to see me and were not too shy to see it. I messaged a friend that I was back, and within 30 seconds received a call telling me to come over. More relaxed conversation, more coffee, more joy. 

dry, but fragrant roses
But while walking around, I realised I had missed most of the markers of spring that I look forward to. The fruit blossoms were over and the fruit had already set. The daffodils and the 'aprilia' were long withered. The dandelion greens were now too tough to eat. The roses had withered. All this in the one-and-half months that I was away. 

Irises (irii?)
And this made me think of Mian. Of how much he misses when he leaves to come back after months. Of the gaps that are always present in his  life. Of how difficult it must be to always feel that things are unfinished. Not earth-shattering, this revelation. And there's nothing I can do about it.

But hopefully, I will learn to be a little more gentle, a little more tender the next time he leaves. I do hope so.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The non-immortal superheroes of this country

Last month, I was in a little village in the heart of UP, the state that is the butt of nearly half of the jokes related to corruption and feudalism (Bihar is the butt of the rest of those jokes). And I met a group of people who inspired in me a profound respect.

One of them in particular fired my imagination. You see, he is a person who explains his profession as 'works in a bank'. You know the type- those faceless men and women who sit at cluttered desks in windowless rooms. The rooms are lit by flickering tubelights. The stuffing is poking out of the chairs, the formica is peeling off the desks. We tend to be rather impersonal with these people. There are banks I have had accounts with for years. I have not spoken, really spoken, to any of the people who update my books, give me my cheques, take  my cash. I do not know their names. For all I care, they are automatons that switch on at 9am and off at 5pm.

I have missed out on so much.

This particular man leads a life worthy of a fantasy super-hero. 9 to 5, he 'works in a bank'. 5pm to 9am, he fights against injustice. In the evenings and during holidays, Sanjay is a leader in a battle against a modern-day Goliath. He does not belong by birth to the village he is fighting for, he and the village have now adopted each other. He takes what he knows best- numbers- and and teaches the villagers how they can be weapons. And mighty effective weapons they are. If it were not for him, the protest at Mehdiganj would have not have had the impact that it does today.

The last time I went to UP, I met a rickshaw-puller who built a temple so that he could rid his family of the discrimination they were subject to for generations. This time, I met a superhero. What will happen next, I wonder.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why the Immortals of Meluha is evil

Strong words? Perhaps, but the only ones that would suit.

The nightmare that many Indians of my generation wake trembling from is dominated by a single image. This is that of a hundred, a thousand, 'kar sevaks' tearing down the Babri Masjid. A teeming mass of men, clad in saffron and waving trishuls, screaming 'Har har Mahadev' and 'Jai Shri Ram'. The cries which were one merely praise for God, now forever twisted into slogans of hate. The reek of self-righteousness that oozed from them as they sought to 'rescue' a supposed birthplace. The exultation in them, the fear in the rest of the country. An archaeological monument was destroyed. A town once known for its peace remains a conflict zone decades after the event. People died. People are dying still because of the hate that this event created. The Ram Janmabhoomi issue is directly responsible for the Godhra massacre.
Babri Masjid, 2002
And now let us consider the climatic event in The Immortals of Meluha.

An army of men, all devotees of Ram, are fighting to reclaim their 'Ram JanmaBhoomi' (yes, Amish Tripathi uses the same politically-charged term) from the enemy kingdom. The heroes of the novel are guided by Shiva, who designs and mass-manufactures tridents. He also gives them a war-cry- Har Har Mahadev! This phrase occurs repeatedly throughout the chapter. 'Jai Shri Ram!' is insistently repeated throughout the entire novel till it resonates in your head.

Criminal exulting in a massacre/Melhuan: Gujarat 2002

The heroes are saffron-clad. The emblem of this enemy kingdom is a white crescent.
I wish I was making this up. I am not.

The book is nothing more, and nothing less than rabid hate-filled propaganda.
It is  layered in a veneer of gender-equality (the prime minister is a woman! Sati is a warrior!), and of the exploration of myths (Shiva as a cool-dude-tibetan!). But  those layers are too flimsy to cover the hate.

And so it disturbs me profoundly that the book is a best-seller. Over one million copies sold! screams the cover. So one million people read it, and thought it was good?

I bought it because of the hype and because of a review  I read in either Frontline or Tehelka- I don't remember which. Both are magazines I trust, with journalists I respect.The article lamented the quality of writing, as well it should. But what about the most important part? Did the reviewer not see the hate? Is it not dishonest for a journalist not to point it out? And what about the other reviewers? did not one person see anything at all? Or are we at that point in our history where hate is normal?

How in the world did we allow this to happen?