Sunday, May 26, 2019

Where to, from here?

The messages doing the rounds are on the lines of “What can India expect if…?” “What should we brace for?”

Those who felt the need to brace for something in the event that the BJP-led NDA returned to power through the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are well aware of what they need to brace for. The last few years have offered some indication.

There is an assumption that bracing will help. It is unlikely. Bracing helps to break a fall, either in a crash landing or in a somewhat evenly matched martial contest. Once you fall, even if you’ve managed to land without breaking your collar bone, you are still down and defenseless, and whoever put you down must have done so with some intention. There is precious little you can do to prevent the realization of that intention in the moment.

Whether the results are an accurate reflection of the people’s mandate and whether majoritarian ambition is all that will be permitted expression henceforth, remains to be seen. The question to focus on is not what to worry about, or even what to combat, but what we value, and how to achieve such values.

For too long, the national conversation has been dominated by unacceptable ideas, and people we want to reject rather than embrace. For some citizens, the idea of secularism was unacceptable. But I find it hard to believe that they valued hatred as a life principle. For others, corruption or crony capitalism was unacceptable. But not much energy and time was spent building the road to the opposite values – honesty and small, independent enterprise.

We may rail against wealth being concentrated in the hands of industrialists who fund the careers of the most powerful people in Parliament, and who will inevitably extract their pound of flesh. However, we continue to use the services and goods that make these business houses richer. We do not build or invest in more independent services because using them is inconvenient.

We don’t mind taking long drives or wasting fossil fuels because the mood strikes us. We do mind going two kilometres to pick up groceries and clothes from non-big corporation owned, non-shopping malls. We don’t like other people consuming hateful rhetoric. We do mind paying the full price for independent media. We don’t like surveillance. We sign up for Aadhaar based surveillance. We are aghast at men threatening to beat up women for drinking in pubs. We do little to counter such men except make cartoons or memes to share on social media.

We would like to think these two strands of choice are unconnected. We would like to do our thing and remain safe, remain free, remain a basically good, inclusive society, all the while surrendering our time, money, our bodies to the processes that fund the exact opposite of what we truly desire and value.
The way to recover our sense of who we are is by inhabiting and embodying our stated values. There is no other way. That is why the leaders of the independence struggle were successful in turning hearts – they didn’t just state, they strove to inhabit, their cherished values.

Ultimately, there are only two things that keep us going as individuals and as a people – love and justice. Take away either and it’s like living with one lung; take away both and the organism starts to collapse.

The nation may yet survive as an anxious, under-nourished, over-worked citizen continues to breathe, work, pay bills. But her being suffers. As hope of love and justice fades, it is replaced by bitterness and rage. While bitterness may yet be diluted through fear or the occasional candy bribe, rage is a hungry beast, not easily domesticated.

It cannot be that some Indians consistently get away with destroying lives and livelihoods. They merely open the floodgates for all others to follow their lead. As it is, India has long suffered from a lack of active, visible justice. Many people already believe that existing systems and processes subvert the Constitution rather than enable it. If people were to stop participating even in the facade of justice, if expectation of dignity and respect were abandoned, then the law, its makers and its administrators will cease to mean anything.

Then, we will need to brace for the end of hope. I am not sure if it is possible to brace against such a thing.

Published in The Quint

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A banned lullaby (Ek zabt-shuda, aur thodi si daraaoni 'Lori')

Level of expectations dekh lo, भई! कभी-कभी देश भक्ति के आवेग में बह जाते हैं लोग, तो ऐसी नज़्में लिख डालते हैं जो अपना जोश तो दिखाती ही हैं, अगली पीढ़ी के मैदान-ए-जंग में क़ुर्बान होने का वायदा कर डालते हैं। ये वीर रस में लिखी अनोखी 'लोरी' है। सोचती हूँ, इन साहब के साहबज़ादे को रात में नींद आती भी थी?

नज़्म: लोरी
शायर: अख़्तर शीराज़ी

कभी तो रहम पर आमादा बेरहम आसमाँ होगा
कभी तो ये जफ़ा पेशा मुक़्क़दर मेहरबाँ होगा
कभी तो सर पे अब्र-ए-रहमत-ए-हक़ गुलफिशाँ होगा
    मस्सर्रत सा समाँ होगा
    मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

किसी दिन तो भला होगा गरीबों की दुआओं का
असर ख़ाली न जायेगा ग़म-आलूद इल्तिजाओं का
नतीजा कुछ तो निकलेगा फ़क़ीराना सदाओं का
    ख़ुदा गर मेहरबाँ होगा
    मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

ख़ुदा रखे जवाँ होगा तो ऐसा नौजवाँ होगा 
हसीन-ओ-कार्दां होगा दिलेर-ओ-तेगरां होगा
बहुत शीरीं ज़ुबाँ होगा बहुत शीरीं बयाँ होगा
     ये महबूब-ए-जहाँ होगा
     मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन और क़ौम की सौ जान से ख़िदमत करेगा ये
ख़ुदा की और ख़ुदा के हुक़्म की इज़्ज़त करेगा ये
हर अपने और पराए से सदा उल्फ़त करेगा ये
        हर एक पर मेहरबाँ होगा
        मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

मेरा नन्हा बहादुर एक दिन हथियार उठाएगा
सिपाही बन के सू-ए-अर्सा-गाहे रज़्म जायेगा
दुश्मन की ख़ून की नहरें बहायेगा
       और आख़िर कामराँ होगा
        मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन की जंग-ए-आज़ादी में जिसने सर कटाया है
ये उस शीदा-ए-मिल्लत बाप का पुर-जोश बेटा है
अभी से आलम-ए-तिफ़ली का हर अंदाज़ कहता है
         वतन का पासबाँ होगा
         मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

है उसके बाप के घोड़े को कब से इंतेज़ार उसका
है रस्ते देखती कब से फ़िज़ाएँ कारज़ार उसका
हमेशा हाफ़िज़-ओ-नाज़िर है परवरदिगार उसका
       बहादुर पहलवाँ होगा
       मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन के नाम पर इक रोज़ ये तलवार उठाएगा
वतन के दुश्मनों को कुंज-ए-तुर्बत में सुलाएगा
और अपने मुल्क को ग़ैरों के पंजे से छुड़ाएगा
      ग़ुरूर-ए-ख़ानदान होगा
      मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

सफ़-ए-दुश्मन में तलवार इसकी जब शोले गिराएगी
शुजा'अत बाज़ुओं में बर्क़ बन कर लहलहायेगी
जबीं की हर शिकन में मर्ग-ए-दुश्मन थरथराएगी
       ये ऐसा तेगदान होगा
       मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

सर-ए-मैदाँ जिस दम दुश्मन इसको घेरते होंगे
बजाये ख़ून रगों में इसकी शोले तैरते होंगे
सब इसके हमल-ए-शेराना से फेरते होंगे
      तह-ओ-बाला जहाँ होगा
      मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

         *       *        *

[ज़ब्त शुदा नज़्में; पेज 232]
[source : आज़ादी की नज़्में]

दवाल: चमड़ी, belt
गुलफिशाँ: फूल बिखराता
मस्सर्रत: ख़ुशी
ग़म-आलूद: ग़म में सना हुआ
कार्दां: समझदार, होशियार
तेगरां: तलवार चलाने वाला (swordsman)
आलम-ए-तिफ़ली: बचपन (infancy)
पासबाँ: रखवाला, चौकीदार
कारज़ार: जंग का मैदान
सू-ए-अर्सा-गाह: मैदान की ओर
रज़्म: जंग
कामराँ: सफ़ल (successful)
मिल्लत: क़ौम या देश 
हाफ़िज़-ओ-नाज़िर: रखवाला, नज़र रखने वाला
सफ़-ए-दुश्मन: दुश्मन की क़तार (ranks of the enemy)
कुंज: कोना
तुर्बत: क़ब्र
शुजात: बहादुरी
हमल-ए-शेराना: शेर जैसा हमला
तह-ओ-बाला जहाँ: दुनिया को उल्टा करना


Nazm : Lori
Poet: Akhtar Sheerani

Kabhi to reham par amaada be-reham aasmaan hoga
Kabhi to ye jafa pesha muqqadar meharbaan hoga
Kabhi to sar pe abr-e-rahmat-e-haq gulfishaan hoga
    Massarat sa samaan hoga
    Mera nanha javaan hoga

Kisi din to bhala hoga gareebon ki duaaon ka
Asar khaali na jaayega gham-aalood iltijaaon ka
Nateeja kuch to nilkega faqeerana sadaaon ka
     Khuda gar meharbaan hoga
     Mera nanha javaan hoga

Khuda rakhe, javaan hoga to aisa naujavaan hoga
Haseen-o-kaardaan hoga diler-o-taigraan hoga
Bahut shireen zubaan hoga bahut shireen bayaan hoga
     Ye mahboob-e-jahaan hoga
      Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan aur quam ki sau jaan se khidmat karega ye
Khuda ki aur khuda ke hukm ki izzat karega ye
Har apne aur paraaye se sada ulfat karega ye
         Har ek par meherbaan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Mera nanha bahadur ek din hathiyaar uthayega
Sipahi ban ke su-e-arsa-gahe razm jayega
Dushman ki khoon ki nehre bahayega
         Aur aakhir kaamraan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan ki jang-e-aazaadi mein jisne sar kataaya hai
Ye us sheeda-e-millat baap ka pur-josh beta hai
Abhi se aalam-e-tilfi ka har andaaz kahta hai
         Vatan ka paasbaan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Hai uske baap ke ghode ko kab se intezaar uska
Hai raste dekhti kab se fizaaein kaarzaar uska
Hamesha haafiz-o-naazir hai parvardigaar uska
        Bahadur pehelvaan hoga
        Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan ke naam par ik roz ye talvaar uthaayega
Vatan ke dushmano ko kunj-e-turbat mein sulaayega
Aur apne mulk ko gairon ke panje se chhudayega
       Guroor-e-khaandaan hoga
       Mera nanha javaan hoga

Saf-e-dushman mein talvaar iski jab shole giraayegi
Shujaat baazuon mein barq ban kar lahlahayegi
Jabeen ki har shikan mein marg-e-dushman thartharayegi
       Ye aisa taigdaan hoga
       Mera nanha javaan hoga

Sar maidaan jis dum dushman isko gherte honge
Bajaaye khoon ragon mein iski shole tairte honge
Sab iske hamle sheraana se pherte honge
      Tah-o-bala jahaan hoga
      Mera nanha javaan hoga

[Source - Aazaadi ki Nazmein]
[Zabt Shuda Nazmein, Page 232]

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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