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.

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