Thursday, August 30, 2007

60 years of independent tyranny.

Just when I think that I can't write anymore, that nothing new can be said, a voice arises from my depths and speaks to me. "Write". It's as if I don't write I don't live. Like a Japanese tourist without a camera, I feel out of place and unable to feel what is happening without capturing it. Some write to understand, I write to feel, to examine and mull over my words months later, it gives me strange pleasure, as if I am moving within a house of mirrors. I don't know what is real but I know I am in there, thats the very least I am sure of, or, at least the illusion is big enough to convince me of my existence, of my powers. I feel alive.

The real reason I began to write was to become great. A part of greatness is imitation. The chicken and egg is really a representation of the mind and body. We don't know which came first, they both come from and effect each other. Similarly, if I follow the habits and superficial idiosyncrasies of the greats, that connection, in that moment of doing/imitating, I feel close. I know that wearing the king's robe won't make me a king but the feeling, it's still a great feeling. Is it enough?

I've always wanted to be other people and change bodies and experiences as casually as one changes clothing. That's why growing up autobiographies were an obsession. And then I discovered cinema and I realized I could do it. I became enthralled by the endless possibilities of existence. What do you want to be? I want to be everything and everyone. From hitler to gandhi because it is a way to know truth and also madness.

All great men wrote. They kept diaries. But do all great men have blogs? Lets forget this is a blog. This is something deeper. This is a forum for the expression of my alter ego. A way for me to connect to obscure corners of the earth at the same time. I want a 14 year old girl in vietnam to read these words and kill herself. I would then have accomplished something with my life.

There is a strange devil inside me I have always nourished with jack daniels and marlboro reds.

The rugged sensationalist in me.

Back in America, after a year filled with life and energy. It feels good to be back in New York, a city constantly re-inventing itself, in flux and on edge. More than that it is a kind of home and after this trip back from India, it's all I have. India will forever be intwined with my destiny but New York, if I am honest with myself, is where I am really from. Walking the streets here after a long absence makes me see and feel differently. Its a momentary feeling and pretty soon one gets caught in the maze but for now I am a ghost from faraway lands observing and looking at people, as they look past me.

Queens is full of beautiful Queens, all fashion designers should recruit models here, this place is the land of diversity and the future will be even more fantastic as we mix and merge to form new races and ways of being.


I am back and this time it feels right. Excuse the absence, the pondering, the self indulgence. This blog is about to get back on track soon. My emotions were too strong, I couldn't write about anything else but myself. Thats my weakness, pretty soon I will get back to examining the world, for now I leave you with a wonderful letter sent by a dear friend in response to my posts on India. There is insight and beauty in them, and I want to share it with you. Enjoy and keep on fighting the good fight.


Gabo man!

I hope you arrived safe, and are back to basking in the predictable, comfortable uniformity of USA!

I went through your blog- thanks for honouring my off-hand statement so! It was not meant to be so profound, actually.

Anyway, I wanted to relate a story which I thought would ease your suffering about the changes in India..

I recently went to a crowded passport office cell. A picture of chaos and indifference on the part of authorities, frustration and anger on the part of public. The counters are few, people are many. Inadequate or no instructions anywhere about what documents are needed, how to fill forms, etc. Officials are not impolite, but they have no qualms in sending a person back if one word is missing on the form, though the person has waited 1 hour to get his turn. Queues are ill formed and confusing, adding to the overall anarchy.

I am in the queue for “special services”, for example change of name after marriage, damage of passport, exhaustion of pages, mistake in passport details, etc. The office makes sure that one has to be present in person to submit this application. You can see all strata of society in that 15 person line- really! From lowly menial labourers struggling to make ends meet in Bahrain, to rich spoilt kids in low rise cargo pants. Also many ageing villagers aching to join their offspring who run news stands in Rome/Washington/wherever.

I had the good fortune of being in this queue for the 2nd time- the first time I was sent back because this counter could not find my record in their computer, and the counter that was supposed to help me was closed for the day, by the time I got my turn and received this information. I think I can claim to be knowledgeable in analyzing the human drama that  unfolds in this queue everyday.

The progression of emotions in the mind of each queuer, regardless of social status seemed to be exactly the same! Here is how it worked:

Stage 1: Disappointment and disgust at the lack of public service and systematic approach in Indian authorities.
Everyone believes that things can be done in a better way. There can be more counters, there can be more transparency, there can be less red tape, one shouldn’t have to waste a day to come here, etc. Some are more vocal than others about this furstration. Some at the back of the queue also yell out their frustration to the person at the counter far, far ahead- get a move on!

Stage 2: A strange, unreasonable conclusion that were there lesser people in this country, all problems would be solved
The “system” is without shape or form, it is difficult to imagine whether it is beautiful or ugly, smells good or stinks. It is easy to blame the system but difficult to hate. The population is ubiquitous. There is a lot of ugliness, a lot of stench- sweat, body odour, farts. It is much easier to hate the population.

Stage 3: Extreme anger and intolerance towards others in the queue
As the queue advances, the same people with whom one was exchanging backgrounds, joking, philosophising- suddenly seem intolerably obnoxious. One concludes that this is a jungle, and everyone else is a threat to one’s interests. If someone wants a pen to fill out a blank field, all are eager to push him to the back of the queue. In the front of the queue, whoever was earlier quiet and patient begins to shove and push, and to thrust their papers into the officials face- in the hope that maybe he will grab them before the person who is in front. There are quarrels, names are called. At this time, there is only one enemy- the person in front in the queue.

Stage 4: Open hostility towards fellow sufferers
Misery does not love company in this case. In Stage 2 and 3, one believes that if others are eliminated things would be better. In this stage, it becomes apparent to one that others also feel the same way towards him! There is now insecurity, anxiety and a call to arms. Everyone is sucked into this spirit- the most docile must also fight and push.

I went through these stages in my first visit, and in the second I had the luxury of observing others go through them. Here are my questions- is our society inherently irrational and selfish, and makes everyone else so? There is a mandate to the officials that everyone admitted into the hall must be attended to, we knew it. Then why is there anxiety and insecurity? The person in front of me was poorer than me, less educated and much fatter. Then why was I so jealous of him? The girl behind me was pretty, pleasant and soft spoken. Then why did I despise her so, thinking she was being pushy and unreasonable?

I sensed a similar anxiety and frustration in your blog. You mentioned several possible causes- the rift between haves and have-nots, lack of awareness and decency in the semi-educated, the heat and maybe some others. None of this mattered in this small cell (it was air conditioned) and I strongly suspect none of this matters in the larger scenario as well. Something, some alien virus has infected us Indians and made us intolerant. I struggle to find a rational explanation to the intolerance but none fits. In the end I tell myself- Man is naturally intolerant. Indians in the history books and in our memories were a superior, nobler race. They were more gentle, more tolerant and more kind than normal humans. Now, with the world opening up, Indians are becoming more and more human, and hence more and more intolerant.

Sometimes we see traces of the better nature- you saw it in Siri Fort with The Last Cigarette. I saw it too in the queue, when the person in front of me (whom I had so far branded as an uncouth, overbearing Punjabi emigrant lout) offered to go out and get copies made for some obscure document for himself as well as for me. He “offered”, I did not ask him. Such events seemed to bring a feeling of serenity and mental peace to those directly involved and also to immediate observers, reminding us of the glory days when we all understood the connection- that we were all part of the same universal yogic super-consciousness, and noone was different from the other (or something to that effect, I don’t know the exact details).

I think Shashi Tharoor is right. WE are decaying, my friend. That is the reason for our displeasure. People around you are decaying as well, but that is no cause for displeasure. Our anger is generated from within. We crave for an Indian Benigni but refuse to be one, we profess the message of love but still cannot stop despising and envying!

I wonder if there is anything that can retard, or stop the decay? Yoga, Vedantas, Vivekanand, Ramdev, etc. seem promising hopes. Deep down, the cynic in me feels that Earth is hurtling towards an inevitable and quite natural destruction, and this is just one of the symptoms. Lets stop kidding ourselves- let us preoccupy ourselves in our businesses, jobs, and studies so that we don’t need to dwell on this unproductive stream of thought.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

And I still haven't found, what I'm looking for

I'd forgotten how frustrating life in Delhi is. The traffic, the heat, the bickering family disputes, servants, the showing off, the class battles, the sexual repression, the hypocrisy, the aggression, the nothing goes your way, the poor transport, the heavy heart attack food, the pathetic night life, the post colonial inferiority complex and nothing is simple or easy. In the past it made me feel alive and now I am tired of it.

The traffic, it's leading to "road rage", incidences where people kill each other over minor disputes while driving and parking cars. Blue line buses also kill daily, operating without permits as mom and pop businesses with little governmental regulation and control where unskilled drivers kill and then flee the scene.

Delhi traffic epitomizes the law of the stronger. One drives with no rules and gets away with what one is allowed. The honking, the screaming, the chaos of it, I don't know how people here manage. I guess they don't. A friend I met yesterday said that Delhi culture is Delhi traffic. No matter how developed you make India, the traffic and the people at heart will remain the same: bestial.

The heat, oh, what a love affair I have with it. It knocks you down, it makes you sweat, and it turns me on. That’s the one part that I won't complain about. Its tough but it’s a good tough. Sitting under a fan, drinking water, taking numerous baths and eating mangoes. Did I mention sex? Let me mention sex, I feel sorry for all those AC fuckers, I am ceiling fan fucker sweat dripping tasting smelling man. The heat is the real star.

Family disputes and bickering has always been apart of Delhi's social fabric. Goes back deep into our classic epics, the bhagavad gita is about a war within a family where God tells man to kill his brother so the modern take on it is no surprise to someone well versed in Indian mythology. Doesn't make it less hurtful though I have come to terms with it and done my best to accept it. Many of these disputes go back years and the line between truth and fiction is blurred by emotions, I even forget what’s happening and what to feel. At least the family care enough about you to hate you, though it is all veiled in a hypocritical civility.

It's this in-between my family is stuck in, between the modern and traditional. New values, new money, I can feel the desperation in many of their faces to not miss the boat. They try too hard and are too fearful. I keep trying to explain to them that instead of looking for magic solutions like computer training, the non-technical, acts like reading, are what make people successful. Computers are just brains, you need a soul to drive them to where you want. Certain fundamentals are universal. You need to be intellectually curious to do well, and that usually comes from within and a simple habit of reading, of wanting to know more than what you are a part of, that’s when real change begins at the personal and bigger level.

Literacy is not getting better, neither is health in the holistic sense. You shed the diseases of poverty to take on the diseases of middle class consumption. Where is progress in that? Something deeper is required, and India has that potential. Half the world’s NGOs are in India! As Shashi Tharoor says “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history amd cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”

If I can't explain this, "Being John Malkovich" does. That’s a film that explains consciousness and how one day you wake up in a big house with a fancy car with a blonde big boobed wife and you wonder how you got there. "Letting the days go by/let he water hold me down, letting the days go by/water flowing underground"

Managing servants. Its great to have people do what you tell them for meager wages. There is always that constant connection to the true children of heaven, the poor. They never do end up doing what you exactly tell them to do and many times they become burdensome and not worth the trouble. I have seen people yell and scream all day at their servants and there are numerous cases where the servants kill masters leading to paranoia amongst the elderly.

A strange dynamic over all and something I have always felt uncomfortable with. It’s an entire sub culture, that’s what’s so perplexing here, the existence of many worlds and layers. The poor live very differently than the rich, and then it becomes more diverse given the region you are from and your particular culture and language. And then comes caste and then we are in many sub groups, I can never keep up.

When I was younger and more Marxist I would do what I could to know and romanticize the rickshaw wallahs, the servants, the poor, till I realized we are all the same in all classes. There are good and bad, enlightened and ignorant in all populations. I've also learned to feel less sorry for the poor. Ok, the absolute poor that have nothing to eat and are ravaged by preventable diseases is unacceptable but I speak more of the moderate poor who have the basics. Most of my upper middle class family is dying slow deaths in the form of over consumption and stupidity. Why would I want the poor to join in the suffering? Everyone has their problems; every situation has its enlightened and frightened side. You just got to figure out where you are and follow the light. Follow the path of love, and make magic where you are.

Benigni, Benigni, we need an Indian Benigni!

People are afraid of losing the material not due to physical necessity but more out of the respect it garners them. It's about power and showing off. My cheap nokia phone bothers my brother in law to no end only because his driver has a better phone than me. The idea that his driver would have something better than me is not inconsequential. It is a signal to the driver that my brother in law doesn't take care of me, and subsequently sends a message that my brother in law lacks power and class. In a jungle like country with obscene inequality the rich need to shock and awe the poor with gadgets that are more for demonstration than utility. You have to scare people not to fuck with you, or they will fuck with you. Fear is the ultimate weapon here, especially in a land where the rule of law functions unpredictably.

There has to be a difference between the haves and the have-nots. Otherwise there is confusion and looks are what most people go on, especially in a country of 45 percent illiteracy. Skin color, clothes, gadgets, everything is about being in the right group. The poor get harassed daily, there is much evidence of the poor internalizing their feelings of inferiority and lacking sufficient empowerment to demand basic state services. Fucked up.

The sexual repression leads to an expression of sensuality that’s brings its own pleasure. The darting glances, the innuendo, the secrecy, you can feel that deep down, inherently we are a sexual culture, a passionate people that dance and sing and try to express in subtle ways that which cannot be expressed in socially acceptable ways. It has its own sub-plots and melodrama and a subtly that is uncommon in western post materialist cultures.

It has its negative consequences. I feel sorry for my cousins who grew up here. They want to marry to have sex, or at least that’s a part of their logic, something strange and sad.

The problem is the modernity mixed with a tradition. Ideally it could work but India seems to marry the worse of both. It leads to interesting things from time to time, but usually horrific.

My friend here summed everything up with a simple statement. He said the problem with India is not the well educated, who are amongst the finest anywhere (st. stephens, ITT, IIMs) nor is it the uneducated, who work and do as told and lead simple and decent lives. It is the semi-educated, those masses of people that get caught in-between the new Indian Dream and the fear of being a nobody and missing the boat. Those are the people with the pretensions, frustrations and fears and who cause problems with their insecurity. They are the ones who need the most help. And they are getting stupider and made to buy things they don't need.

Come on! I know this land can give rise to something the world has never seen before. I know it and feel it and wait. If not here, where? If not now, when? I don't want India to become Taiwaned. Have you seen their films, "Yi-Yi" and "What time is it there" are depressing. That whole country is like gurguaon. I hate gurguaon; I hate it so much I don't even care to spell its name properly. That’s for my next post, and if anyone wants to start an I hate Gurguaon movement, I am there. That place represents as microcosm, what is wrong with India's development.