Monday, May 20, 2019

Single does not translate into unselfish

Sometimes I wonder what we would do if India – as a political entity – had a Facebook account and had to update her relationship status with her citizens. I suspect she would say, ‘It’s Complicated’.

It is, indeed, complicated in a country where most relationships are suspect and where even the most conventional family structure is starting to be politically problematic. At the crux of it, of course, is the argument against ‘dynasty’. In Hindi, it sounds even more complicated. The term parivaar-vaad is used which suggests the support of one’s own family.

The assumption is that a leader with a spouse is likely to hand down the mantle of power to his/her own children, and this looks too much like monarchy for our comfort. There is also the rhetoric around single politicians – by virtue of being footloose and child-free – devoting all their time and energy to the well-being of other people’s children. In actual practice, they might be devoting their time to poetry, photography, or changing outfits a few times more than is strictly necessary.

Those who don’t have their own children often end up grooming a relative who can be trusted – to the extent that trust is possible in politics – or someone not related by blood or marriage but who has hung around long enough to become a substitute child, or mentee.

Some political careers have probably been constructed thus – through the willingness to hang around older politicians who may not have their own children to groom. This method of doing politics, however, is the exact opposite of what a democracy needs. We need people who are agitating towards the resolution of problems – including the difficulties of raising babies and caring for ageing or sick parents – and are willing to risk something in order to do so.

We all know single people in our own lives: an unmarried aunt, a widowed grandparent, a divorced cousin. In my own experience, they are not exceptionally self-sacrificing merely by virtue of being single. On the other hand, some of the most generous people I have known – those who work twice as hard and also volunteer time for public causes, especially to the care of other people’s children – are married mothers.

This is not because they are filled with the literal milk of human kindness. It is because they are care enough to fight their way out of the moment and look beyond. Many of them want to create a nation, a planet, a city, a village fit for their kids. Many fathers also work towards similar goals. They manage to be decent husbands and dads, while fighting legal battles for those who need their services, or writing extensively, traveling to meetings and joining demonstrations.

However, deep down, we all know that being single is not the answer to anything. Single people just are what they are – single. Not better, not worse, perhaps a little more vulnerable in their old age. Then why do we idolise single politicians in India?

Part of it is our brutal approach to personal joy. It could be that it makes us peevish to think of a man who wields power, with all its trappings and its endless retirement benefits, also finding love, with its full spectrum of hope, joy and purpose. There must be a spot of envy in our collective soul that demands the sacrifice of happiness at the altar of public validation. Of women, we ask twice the sacrifice. The smallest hint of reaching out for sexual satisfaction and out come the snarling teeth, the howls of disapproval.

Many Indians also assume that all laws will be broken, all systems corrupted in the interests of one’s own child, because this is precisely what they themselves do. What they want, then, is the freedom to go on corrupting the nation for the sake of their biological offspring – starting from kindergarten admissions to Vyapam-like scams, all the way up to offshore bank accounts in tax havens – while reveling in the knowledge that their chosen leader does not have the pleasure of doing the same.

That our chosen leaders might be bending all the laws of the land to empower a handful of business dynasties does not occur to most of us. Perhaps we are so preoccupied with our own families and communities, we find it hard to wrap our minds around the idea that someone can just take a chunk of public resources and hand it on a platter to another’s man’s children.

I am no advocate of dynasty, be it political, cultural or business. At any rate, as history teaches us, no dynasty lasts unless each generation works hard to retain its position. However, what India does need urgently is a nurturing leadership, one that has a serious stake in her future. We do not need leaders who are devoid of all filial, maternal or sexual attachment. We do need leaders who are willing to support everyone’s right to live, with or without dependents and attachments.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

देश प्रेम पे ध्यान: २

मेरी माँ ने एक बात कही थी जो ज़हन में गहरी जा के अटक गयी है। उन्होंने कहा: ख़ुदा/ भगवान/ प्रकृति किसी को दुनिया में भूखा मरने के लिए नहीं भेजता है; बच्चे के साथ उसकी रोटी भी भेजी है। माँ के ज़रिये उसके खाने-पीने का इंतेज़ाम किया है।

किसी बच्चे से उसकी रोटी, दूध छीना जा रहा है तो इसमें धरती का दोष नहीं है, न ऊपर वाले की कठोरता। ये इंसान का काम है, जो ऐसे हालात पैदा कर देता है कि माँ के पास कुछ नहीं बचता अपने बच्चे के लिए।

उन दिनों मैं अपनी माँ से अक्सर बहस किया करती थी। मुझे लगता था, ऊपर वाले (या वाली) की अच्छाई पे कोई कैसे यक़ीन कर सकता है जब नीचे, दुनिया में, देश में इतनी तकलीफ़ है? अब समझती हूँ। कुछ इंसान हैं ऐसे जो दूसरों से सब छीन लेते हैं, अपने पास बटोर के रख लेते हैं। इस बटोरने की कोई इन्तहा नहीं। ज़मीन, पेड़, साफ़ पानी और सुरक्षा, सुकून की नींद - इतना छीन लो और माँ की सेहत बिखरने लगेगी। लाचार माँ, भूखा बेज़ार बच्चा।

मुझे ये भी लगने लगा है, छीनने के सिलसिले की शुरुआत माँ की ज़ुबान से होती है, ताकि जब एक-एक कर सारी सहूलियतें, जीने के ज़रिये ख़त्म होते नज़र आएं, वो अपनी तकलीफ़ बयान न कर सके।

शायद छीनने वालों को डर है, कहीं बच्चे किसी तरह पल ही गए तो कौन सी कहानियाँ सुन कर सोयेंगे? माँ की मजबूरियों की ज़िम्मेदारी ठहराने चले, तो कहाँ रुकेंगे?

इसलिए माँ की ज़ुबान पे ताला ज़रूरी है। कभी उसे डराया जाता है - मुँह बंद रखो नहीं तो जान सलामत नहीं। कभी उसे छोटी-छोटी रिश्वत से बहलाया जाता है - ये लो एक रोटी और एक बोटी, चुप बैठ के खाओ नहीं तो कल दोबारा ये भी नहीं मिलेगी। जो माँ बेचैन रहे, चीख़े चिल्लाए कि जो हक़ प्रकृति ने दिया है उसे छीनने वाले तुम कौन हो? उसकी ज़ुबान खींच ली जाती है। जो लोग ज़मीन-पानी-हवा का शोर मचाएँ, उनका मुल्क ढेर कर दिया जाता है। 

देश. माँ. माता. Motherland. रोटी।  दूध।  बग़ावत।  शहादत।

कब से? कब तक?

शायद हर दौर में माँ एक रोटी का सौदा कर गयी है, चार रोटी की भूख को कुचलती हुई। हर दौर में एक मटका पानी लाने में इतनी मसरूफ़ रही, नदी की धार पे क़ब्ज़ा करना भूल गयी। बच्चों की जान बचाने के लिए पैसों का इंतज़ाम करती रही और जिस जगह पैसे पे बच्चों की ज़िन्दगी का सौदा टिका है, वहाँ के निज़ाम को खदेड़ने की ताक़त नहीं बना पाई।

प्रेम करती रही, वोट भर्ती रही। अपने हक़ में खड़ी कम ही हुई। बच्चे बच सके तो बच गए। 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Seasons of joy

Tradition and ritual, especially unthinking ritual, hold little appeal for me. Those of us who grew up celebrating almost every religious festival there is on the Indian calendar would have also grown weary of the expectations attached – to cook, buy gifts or new clothes, visit the same set of ten to 15 people, rinse, repeat.

As an adult, I tired of the seeming emptiness of these rituals and wondered what exactly we celebrated. Those of us who are not farmers cannot experience the joy and relief of a harvest season in the physical or social way our ancestors would have. Those of us who do not rear sheep or chickens cannot expect to truly participate in a celebration of sacrifice.

The first festival that gave me a sense of homecoming had me standing beside my mother, along with thousands of strangers, gasping at the magic of Ustad Zakir Hussain’s hands on the tabla. The performance was free and open to all. We had no seats. It didn’t matter. The Ustad was playing at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, the year after his own father, Ustad Alla Rakha, had passed away. So we knew that he was playing in some grief. Under the cool night sky, we listened, marveled and felt quietly grateful.

Read the full article here in GQ India

Friday, May 03, 2019

A place of beauty, and of harassment

Cars are not my happy place. Yet, for over two years, I wrote a road column for The Hindu. 

My view was that of a citizen who uses the road, sometimes as motorist, sometimes as pedestrian and sometimes as a person dependent on public transport. This was the last column of the series:

A road is more than an enabler of motor transport. It is public space. It is a place of pathos, of beauty. It is also the venue of a dozen contestations of power – who gets to stand where, talk how loudly and to how many people, and who is frightened off the road.

On Holi this year, I had a strange experience. Actually, a commonplace experience but it felt strange because I had forgotten what it's like to be followed, , in Mumbai and in broad daylight, and to struggle against unwanted male attention.

I stepped out in the evening after Holi celebrations were over, to buy groceries. A sleek, expensive-looking black car slowed down.

Read the whole column here:
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