Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

The year ends, and I am here, in India, in awe of the time passing and my life moving in so many different directions.  I usually try and write about something serious and avoid all reality TV fueled excesses about the details of my life and emotions.  But I am human, this blog is more than just an intellectually driven machine, pumping out film reviews and political analysis, it's got soul, dear reader and a heart of gold.  

The backdrop to everything right now is India.  This grand and tragic place, so thoroughly embedded in the collective imagination.  This new year will be even more India- focused.  

I've also gotten very good responses to the film reviews, more will follow.  

Just to spice things up, I will add a bit more from my personal journal, for which there were some requests.  

Keep reading, and thinking and acting.  Something tells me, that 2009, is the year, that small window of opportunity that comes only so often, to change the world, for the better.  It will be a year of great changes.    

Here is to a new year, together, in Gabo World.  2009 got a nice ring to it.  I can already feels its magic and transformative power.  I wish you call courage and strength and love.  Thank you for your support, it means a lot to me, more than you'll ever know.  


A Dialogue on School

I wrote this to X in response to his dismay to his graduate level program in the UK.  I don't know if it will have the impact I want.  His other influences are too backward.  And India, northern India especially, is hard on anyone who wants to study.  It's short term versus long term thinking, the latter predominant mentality, is changing ever so slowly.    It is a very, very anti-intellectual society to the shock of any American, I am sure, who associates Indians with education.  The survival mentality breeds a hyper utilitarianism Bentham would envy.  It's sick.  "Be practical, be practical", I never want to here that word again, Practical, what does it mean?  To have no vision, be a follower and stagnate?  And if I bring this up, at once, in unison, all Indians say:  Because you are an American you can think this way.  Yes, I am, but there is a reason Americans rule the world and its imagination.  We are much more than our wealth and arms.  American didn't become rich and then choose to have wonderful, liberal, humanistic ideals, on the contrary,  it's BECAUSE of those ideals, that we rule and are powerful and will continue to be so despite all the doomsayers.        

I can understand why X feels the way he does.  All those who currently rule and change and transform india, did not spend their free time learning Latin and Ancient Greek, or reading philosophy or history.  They were technically oriented.  Where we come from, is different.  Our highest echelons of power are dominated by people who seriously study liberal arts.  Even our medical entrance exams, the MCAT, a third of it is just reading comprehension.  It is a very different approach, with very different incentives.  But for India to change, and to change fundamentally, it will need to embrace all fields of knowledge and intellectual curiosity. And forget personal gain, for a second.  For a person to have a meaningful and deep life, true education and knowledge, allows you to make sense of your failures.  It brings a narrative to your life and a way to view the world, that nothing else can provide.  Also, in a consumer society, it refines your consumption, curtails it, and makes you weary of what you are force fed.  That is why I am so adamant about studies and education, especially in a democracy.  Ignorant people anywhere are a tragedy, but empowered ignorant people; nothing is more dangerous.     


I have been thinking, very deeply, about your adverse feelings towards your Masters program at your university.  I agree, that many theories, and what is taught, is not always correct.  That "ground" realities are not taken into account, that very, very smart and capable people, mess things up.  That is all true.  But the main point of studying is not the content, necessarily.  There are of course imperfections in the process, but the point is - the process.  The evolving conversation of what is true, and how to apply it.  

There is a HUGE divide between those who make policy and those who suffer from them.  Most people with "ground" reality, who have deep insight into how things really are, rarely have access to circles of power, and if they do, often do not have the tools to communicate it.  You are getting that chance.  

University education, in America, at least, has evolved over the past 40 years to include more people, and give them the tools of argumentation, both in terms of assessment and making arguments.  

It is this process that you must master.  Without this imperfect process, there's anarchy and nothing else.    

Some very concrete goals you need to have for yourself:  You need to write what you feel is true and be able to get assessment from leading scholars in the field.  That feedback is priceless and that is not always based on the content but how you frame your arguments.  It's good writing plus good research, skills that are necessary in whatever you do.  For good writing is what leads to good thinking.  You also need to get to the point of being able to publish an article, write op-ed pieces, in a convincing way.  You also need to be familiar with the pre-dominant theories to understand the mind-set of the outsider, in dealing with them.  Just saying it's Western, or White, or because they are not Indian, is not enough.  You need to attack their ideas, not their identity.  

My good friend , who is Lebanese, suffered similar problems in the beginning.  He had just come from the 2006 war and sitting in a class about theories seemed so frivolous.  Its easy, when we have direct experience, or when we have suffered, to just say everything is about power and money and might.  If you believe that, why study at all?  Isn't knowledge power?    Aren't we in a knowledge economy?  Knowledge is the motor.  What you are mistaking, is the content for the process.  Theories, most of them are wrong, but the courage and work in putting one together, does move mountains.  India would be nowhere without nationalism, and those ideas, and Pakistan would probably not exist if Jinnah wasn't so deeply moved by john stuart mill's "On Liberty" which argues forcefully about the plight of minorities in a democracy.

Everything you do, every action, the ancestor of it, is an idea.  

So go back now, but be positive and focus on writing and expressing your truth to those white fuckers.  And they will be open to it, they always want to be proven wrong and are open to criticism.  You needn't see the game as rigged, as see all sources as bias, and everyone brain-washed.  And you can't just say it without giving specific examples, and dissecting arguments, and persuading someone.  Right now you are not persuasive at all.  You are acting like a thug.  The essence of your argumentation is:  I am indian, I know ground realities, I have my classified courses, I just know and you don't because you don't know india, are american, are white, are western brain-washed.  Thats just rubbish.  How does one respond to that?  The argument is over before it began.  You shut down all discussion.   


That's it, please don't take this the wrong way, and please don't laugh this off or make fun of my concern.  Your doing this impressed me beyond belief.  It made me see you as someone who is more than just money and business.  Someone who believes in a truth and wants to contribute to making the world better.  You can write my feelings off to me being "weird", but trust me, I am not weird.  I feel much, much more confident in introducing you to people, and collaborating with you, knowing you are going through the process we all went through.  I just want to see you make the most of it.  

My love to you,


MY SECOND RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE OF THIS LETTER: basically the recipient just saw western education as brain-washing and narrow

I wrote back:

Dude, thanks for taking the time to respond to my concerns.  It is not easy to do, with someone you care about, and who is a great friend, but that is precisely why I wrote you.  A couple quick points to your points.  

1.  I agree that western educated people, The West, whatever you want to call it, is bias.  But it's the only system, that I know of, that has institutional mechanisms, to foster the accountability and transparency you talk of.  It has the possibility to correct itself, though not perfect, it is at least trying to check power.  All significant changes, 40 hour work week, end of slavery, environmental movements, have all been a result of popular struggle and these mechanisms within these countries.  There is at play, constantly, a dynamic interplay between people and their respective governments in the West.  This does not exist in other countries that have no checks on their power.    

I have seen far to many people say, including the Chinese, that the US does what it convenient to it, and then preaches to others, especially when it comes to human rights.  But the West did not change magically, they change because the people within these countries are powerful and influence their government to change.  The change is a result of massive struggle; the civil war in America, two World Wars in Europe, the French revolution, and on and on.  

Is there no difference between Russia, China, Iran, the gulf states with  Europe, US, Latin America, India?    

I agree, on an international scale, there will be little difference.  Because there is no world government, or police, much of international affairs boils down to Realism.  Power is more naked, but on internal levels, the civilization and the quality of life provided by the West is without precedent in human history.  That is why the WTO was created and the UN, to buffer the Realism that takes place when there is no authority.  In their own ways, it makes states accountable on a global scale.  I think you confuse the International effects of the West, and see that as an indictment of everything they are about.  But it's more a failing of the world system.  Don't extrapolate the realism demanded by the international sphere, into seeing all countries as the same, and it all being about power. 

2.  The next thing is your distrust of "rational" thinking based on data and studies.  Of course they can be flawed.  But the logical conclusion of your statement becomes anti-research, anti-science.  The best way is still to cite sources and then challenge those sources.  That takes effort, and investigation, but if we don't commit ourselves to this process, than we can never be sure of the truth.  How to you convince anyone then?  It will all boil down to he said, she said, I heard, and I saw, but that is just your subjective experience.  I am repeating myself, again, but it bears repeating because the scientific method is the BASIS of the Enlightenment and is what took us from Darkness to Light.  It separated the Church from the State and was what was used to challenge traditional hierarchies.  If you give up on this, then you are take a huge step back.    

3.  I think if you come out of this focusing on the skills and contacts you can get from this experience. it'll be worth it.  Focus on the writing, and focus on getting to know interesting people.  You will, with your alumni network, eventually, be able to recruit top talent to your organization, and get a sense of where they come, and what they study.  There is an aspect of bullshit to what you study in Graduate School, but its so much more than just the studies.  You understand a bit more the complexities of making decisions.  It is hard to rule the world.  So much of the "failings" that hurt you, are a result of the difficulty of running a fair and just world.  Free trade economics was to counteract the corrupt government monopolies that slowed down the 70s.  Ideologies and theories innovate and then they stagnate, and then new ideas are needed.  Free trade and liberalization has done loads for the world, but then it over-shot, and now new thinking is needed.  And that is what is being done.  It is easy to be critical, but much harder to innovate.    

Enjoy your remaining time at University and study your ass off.  You will have the rest of your life for work and screaming at your peons on your mobile, at all hours of the day.  And, please, sleep around and make some white girls happy with your brown love.

Will be in touch with everything else.  Be positive and don't let the white man get you down.    

Much Love,


Friday, December 19, 2008

The Silence - Ingmar Bergman

Two sisters; one dying, the other sexually promiscuous - both haunted by the others presence.  Trapped in a hotel room, in a foreign country, on a holiday gone awry.  With such a simple premise, Bergman weaves together his characteristic obsessions; man alone in a godless world, death, longing, suffering.  Watching his films is like driving a car destined to crash.  You know it'll end badly, but you carry on, for the sake of the ride.  It's worth dying for.

It's not all bleak, just refreshingly serious.  There is not a frame that doesn't force you to meditate on the purpose of our lives.  As so much is said, in Silence.  The acting is magnificent, the scenes hypnotic, technically I can't remember watching something so flawless in a long time.  But Bergman is more than just a master of his craft.  He searches for a morality in such morally confused times.  How is one to act?  How does one live?  If nothing is sacred, is all permitted?  Each of his films, though different, all deal with is these fundamental dilemmas.  And always, there is someone who personifies the way forward.     

This time, it's in the form of a child, the illegitimate son of the sexually ravenous sister.  His longing for his mother and her indulgence of his innocence make for some remarkably tender moments.  The sister's clashing egos are assuaged by his presence, forcing them to pull away from their selfishness.  Both look to him in times of trouble, but he's just a boy, not yet a man; incapable of curing their insufferable alienation.

Language is also an interesting subtext.  Both sisters find comfort in being unable to communicate with the foreign men who enter their lives.  It allows them to soliloquize, this solitude in the presence of another, liberates a feeling, words so often enslave. 

It ends badly.  The car crashes.  But Bergman makes the wind fly in your hair and gives you those moments of exhilaration, only recklessness can give.  This is film, in its highest form, by one of its greatest masters.  It's worth dying for.                

Friday, December 12, 2008

Paris Vs. Havana (NY Times)

By Roger Cohen

Since visiting Cuba a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about the visual assault on our lives. Climb in a New York taxi these days and a TV comes on with its bombardment of news and ads. It's become passé to gaze out the window, watch the sunlight on a wall, a child's smile, the city breathing.

In Havana, I'd spend long hours contemplating a single street. Nothing — not a brand, an advertisement or a neon sign — distracted me from the city's sunlit surrender to time passing. At a colossal price, Fidel Castro's pursuit of socialism has forged a unique aesthetic, freed from agitation, caught in a haunting equilibrium of stillness and decay.

Such empty spaces, away from the assault of marketing, beyond every form of message (e-mail, text, twitter), erode in the modern world, to the point that silence provokes a why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety. Technology induces ever more subtle forms of addiction, to products, but also to agitation itself. The global mall reproduces itself, its bright and air-conditioned sterility extinguishing every distinctive germ.

Paris, of course, has resisted homogenization. It's still Paris, with its strong Haussmannian arteries, its parks of satisfying geometry, its islands pointing their prows toward the solemn bridges, its gilt and gravel, its zinc-roofed maids' rooms arrayed atop the city as if deposited by some magician who stole in at night.

It's still a place where temptation exists only to be yielded to and where time stops to guard forever an image in the heart. All young lovers should have a row in the Tuileries in order to make up on the Pont Neuf.

Yet, for all its enduring seductiveness, Paris has ceased to be the city that I knew. The modern world has sucked out some essence, leaving a film-set perfection hollowed out behind the five-story facades. The past has been anaesthetized. It has been packaged. It now seems less a part of the city's fabric than it is a kitschy gimmick as easily reproduced as a Lautrec poster.

I know, in middle age the business of life is less about doing things for the first than for the last time. It is easy to feel a twinge of regret. Those briny oysters, the glistening mackerel on their bed of ice at the Rue Mouffetard, the drowsy emptied city in August, the unctuousness of a Beef Bourguignon: these things can be experienced for the first time only once.

So what I experience in Paris is less what is before me than the memory it provokes of the city in 1975. Memories, as Apollinaire noted, are like the sound of hunters' horns fading in the wind. Still, they linger. The town looks much the same, if prettified. What has changed has changed from within.

At dinner with people I'd known back then, I was grappling with this elusive feeling when my friend lit a match. It was a Russian match acquired in Belgrade and so did not conform to current European Union nanny-state standards. The flame jumped. The sulfur whiff was pungent. A real match!

Then it came to me: what Paris had lost to modernity was its pungency. Gone was the acrid Gitane-Gauloise pall of any self-respecting café. Gone was the garlic whiff of the early-morning Metro to the Place d'Italie. Gone were the mineral mid-morning Sauvignons Blancs downed bar-side by red-eyed men.

Gone were the horse butchers and the tripe restaurants in the 12th arrondissement. Gone (replaced by bad English) was the laconic snarl of Parisian greeting. Gone were the bad teeth, the yellowing moustaches, the hammering of artisans, the middle-aged prostitutes in doorways, the seat-less toilets on the stairs, and an entire group of people called the working class.

Gone, in short, was Paris in the glory of its squalor, in the time before anyone thought a Frenchman would accept a sandwich for lunch, or decreed that the great unwashed should inhabit the distant suburbs. The city has been sanitized.

But squalor connects. When you clean, when you favor hermetic sealing in the name of safety, you also disconnect people from one another. When on top of that you add layers of solipsistic technology, the isolation intensifies. In its preserved Gallic disguise, Paris is today no less a globalized city than New York.

Havana has also preserved its architecture — the wrought-iron balconies, the caryatids, the baroque flourishes — even if it is crumbling. What has been preserved with it, thanks to socialist economic disaster, is that very pungent texture Paris has lost to modernity.

The slugs of Havana Club rum in bars lit by fluorescent light, the dominos banged on street tables, the raucous conversations in high doorways, the whiff of puros, the beat through bad speakers of drums and maracas, the idle sensuality of Blackberry-free days: Cuba took me back decades to an era when time did not always demand to be put to use.

I thought I'd always have Paris. But Havana helped me see, by the flare of a Russian match, that mine is gone.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bombay Blues

I was there, trapped in the Lawrence Hotel, near the gateway of India.  I somehow find myself in the midst of seismic geo-political events.  The World Trade Center and now this, but I made it back to Delhi, but completely, after many days, still in awe of what has happened and what this means for the world.    

If before Mumbai the War on Terror seemed a paranoid figment of the American imagination, think again.  All of us, no matter what we do, what political party we support, need to come to terms with the severity of what has occured.  The threat is real and the response - the direct response - has to be more than just appealing to the hearts and minds of terrorists.  There isn't enough time.  At this point, appeasement will not work.  Not Palestine, not Kashmir, nothing of that sort can derail what has been further set in motion with the events in Mumbai.

When joe six-pack, in America, is carving his thanksgiving turkey to the backdrop of live minute by minute news of the carnage, you know something is horribly amiss.  Something terrible has been unleashed on our collective conscious.  The level of coverage and global concern is perplexing and bizarre.  The monster that is 24 hour news is making perverse voyeurs of us all.

But on to practical concerns.  The geo-political chess game continues.      

Invading Pakistan, or engaging in a any direct State to State confrontations will be counter-productive and only serve to exacerbate the situation.  Its in our collective interests to have a strong Pakistani state which is capable of governing and dealing with internal elements of extremism.  Any weakening on this front, will lead to further chaos and uncertainty.  

Pakistan is fighting a war on two fronts; the northwestern frontier against the religious extremists and the eastern threat with India over Kashmir.  Pakistan needs to be re-assured that they need not worry about India, in order to focus all efforts on dealing with the religious extremists in the NW territories.  Its understandable that this is difficult and that there is anger at Pakistan for harboring terrorists.  But Pakistan itself is aware, having been victims of numerous and devastating attacks over the past year.  Working with them, makes more sense than working against them.  Pakistan has sent out signals indicating transparent cooperation, and India, along with the US, need to use this as an opportunity to gain concessions in terms of intelligence sharing and taking extreme steps to purge any terrorist elements in the ISI, Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, which, if early reports are to believed, played a role in training the terrorists that perpetrated the Mumbai operations.    

Besides this, India needs to do a lot more to enhance its competency in terms of intelligence and preparedness.  Early evidence, that warnings of the attack were not heeded and the amateur response (terrorists blazing revolver toting policemen with AK 47s, along with the delay in reacting, or having any serious contingency plan), are unacceptable.  This will be a much needed wake-up call and also an opportunity for meaningful solidarity with the US and other Western nations.   

But I am pessimistic.  India's, so far, wonderful growth and transformation, has been despite the State.  The State remains incompetent and it's never more apparent than in moments such as these.  How will terrorism be prevented if basic simple service delivery(health, education, infrastructure), of which we know how to fix, cannot be accomplished?  Why doesn't someone just come out and say it:  the Indian state is pathetic.  The only thing good thing they have done in the past ten to fifteen years is step out of the way.  That can work for business, but in matters of State, more specifically, the integrity of a nation, it's impossible.  There needs to be something done to increase governmental capacity at all levels, and especially of matters pertaining security.  

It is promising that there is bi-partisan cooperation, but more is needed.  These events have done great damage, confidence is an element of economic growth, and confidence is shaken.  New York can recover quicker, because it's New York.  But Mumbai and India need to work harder to rebuild, both the infrastructure and the faith.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kashmir – India’s Albatross

The Indian government finds itself in an impossible situation in Kashmir.  The largest demonstrations in two decades in the valley have brought hundreds of thousands to the streets, calling for freedom.  This surprising turn of events is a stark contrast to the relative calm and optimism in the area following the much-lauded 2002 local elections, coinciding with President Musharraf's commitment to control jihadist elements across the border. The current situation only demonstrates New Delhi's flawed strategy to an untenable situation, inevitably bound to become more difficult given the dormant frustrations and tensions in the region.  

This past year was especially good for the valley, with record highs for tourism and economic activity.  There were no outward signs that a flare up of this magnitude was on the horizon, let alone enormous, unprecedented, mostly non-violent calls for independence that have caught the Indian security forces off guard.  Having been trained to fight an insurgency they now, quickly, are training for crowd control.    

The spark that set off the crisis was a transfer of 92 acres of land for a Hindu pilgrimage.  It is, of course, not the direct cause to the current conflict.  The roots are much deeper. About a half a million soldiers pursue a few thousand militants, making Kashmir the most militarized zone in the world.  Human rights violations have been rampant.  Nobody has figured out how to deal with insurgencies mixed with terrorism, and the Indian state often finds itself stuck between doing nothing and doing too much.  To make up for it, New Delhi - to their credit - focuses on appeasement through economic and political means.  

No state, per capita, has received as much economic aid as Kashmir has, but to no avail.  No state has experienced as much political autonomy either - in no small part due to a special constitutional provision dating back to Nehru.  Elections in the region are promising but prominent Kashmiri leaders focus not on improving governance but rather on independence and an emphasis on Islam as a guiding force.  Democracy has this illiberal underbelly, much like Hamas in Palestine and the Islamic parties of the northwestern frontier in Pakistan, which, though elected by the people, often work against the people's interest by promoting terrorism and repression.    

So force is not working, neither is money or democracy.  If Kashmiris had a right to self-determination they would very likely secede and/or join Pakistan.  There is little doubt about that.  But then again, so would other parts of India if given the choice.  Besides Kashmir, secessionist problems existed in Punjab and currently one can make the case that Assam and Nagaland would be motivated by any loss to Indian territory.  And these are just the overt cases.  Since independence, a dialectical balance has constantly been in play between the center and peripheries.  Concessions and compromises were always made; Hindi being a case in point, first being force taught to the South, to later being dropped after numerous protests.  All this has led to greater decentralization and the rise of regionalist parties and the creation of new states, allowing for India to stay integral and united amidst tremendous diversity. 

What has worked in other areas of India has not worked in Kashmir for a whole host of reasons none greater than the fact that Pakistan is right next door.  Since independence three official wars have been fought, not to mention numerous skirmishes, with the insurgency being directly aided by the ISI; Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency.  In fact, in the period 2002-2008, violence has gone down in no small part to Musharraf's commitment to control infiltration from jihadists.  With Musharraf gone and Pakistan slowly slipping into chaos, Kashmir will be as vulnerable as ever.  An independent Kashmir will bring Pakistan and its instability that much closer to India.  

With the recent unilateral actions by the U.S. in Pakistan's tribal areas, with a possible fall-out between the two governments likely, the situation is getting trickier.  India can be that missing piece that can add pressure from the LOC given Pakistan's current vulnerability.  Recent deployment of 6 of its most capable warplanes to Kashmir precisely sends this message.  

All this makes a Kashmiri state, or any redrawing of borders, extremely unviable.  An independent Kashmir, or worse a Kashmir as part of Pakistan is not a possibility as far as Indian strategic and security interests are concerned.  The implications for the region are too great.  The point is moot whether Kashmiris are freedom fighters or terrorists.  A supposed emerging super power will not be keen to show weakness and no secession or compromise will be made; already clear from Manmohan Singh's "no borders will be redrawn" statement.  Further agitation will only serve to challenge his authority and with time, if continues, will only provoke more violence and ruthlessness.    

That national elections are looming on the horizon doesn't help the situation.  The BJP has a history of riding the waves of religious controversy to power.  Further calls for freedom, or any threat of Kashmiri independence will make Kashmir be what Ayodha was in the 1995 elections: A rallying cry to unite Hindus against Muslims.  BJP's 2004 strategy emphasizing economic growth and "Shining India" failed.  They've wised up and know that people are motivated more by threats to security and more importantly threats to their identity.  Hindu agitation in Jammu, with their own protests and economic blockade of the valley, is evidence enough that the times ahead with only get worse.  


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sonal Shah - A case of political naivete

Let's be clear:  Sonal Shah is not a Hindu Fundamentalist.  She is, however, politically naive and was unable to grasp what any association with the VHP, BJP and RSS would mean for her and her commendable social work.  This is either because she is out of touch with ground realities in India, or felt she didn't need to make serious efforts to distance herself from what she may have perceived as just exaggerated leftist smear campaigns.  But while Leftists are more alarmist, ridiculous and unconvincing with their rhetoric (fascist, Hitler, etc), the underlying assertions, of her troubling affiliations and collaborations, are valid.  And with her recent appointment to Obama's transition team, the issue has inevitably come to the spotlight.   

The only comments, thus far, from the Shah family have been Anand Shah's recent statements condemning the Gujarat riots.  Who doesn't?  But what about condemning VHP and specifically CM Narendra Modi for his documented role in the massacres?  Why does he choose not to condemn the Sangh?  Most probably, because he feels Indicorps' work would be compromised as a result.  Most of their social projects are based in Gujarat.  They need to be on Modi's good side and, also, when your father does (or did) have leadership roles within these organizations, you want to respect your elders.  But sometimes a clear stand is necessary, and one must break away from those you love.  Obama did it with reverend Jeremiah Wright.  He was forgiven the moment he dissociated himself.  The same would have been true, and is still true, if both Anand and Sonal dissociate themselves from their parents and their own former collaborations and activities with the Sangh.    

But that would take guts, and would politicize an organization focused on "Service for the Soul".  But Sonal Shah's and Indicorps current stand is not neutral.  What is best at this moment, if she wants to salvage her reputation and that of her work, is to admit she made a mistake.  That she wasn't careful, that she believes firmly in the secular founding principles of the country and not an India dominated by those who wish to impose a Hindu state.  These very curt and brief statements would go a long way in allowing her to make the many meaningful contributions she is, and will continue to make, in her ascending and bright future.  

We need Sonal Shah.  I am saddened by those who want to bring her down, hurt her work, and are calling for her resignation.  Her work, commitment, vision and dedication to public service are laudable and all efforts should be made to work and dialogue with her, instead of destroying her.  Take it from someone who has had many, many brilliant dialogues with the woman (see old posts on this blog).  Her openness, ideas and life, are  exemplary.  I firmly stand behind her, wish her the best in her new role as advisor and ask now - for the practical concern of moving on from this controversy now and forever - that she make her apology and make clear her dissociation from the Sangh.  Saying you have no links, when your father has had a leadership role with the Sangh, when you were a former national coordinator yourself for the VHP-A, when Narendra Modi has been a guest in your house, when you have received an award from the man himself, all come off as unconvincing.  I realize her dilemma in this.  Sonal does not want to jeopardize her relationship with Gujarat, but she can't have it both ways.  A clear stance is necessary and I look forward to some official statement in the forthcoming days.  

Thursday, November 06, 2008


It's here in New Delhi, of all places, that for the first time in my adult life, I am proud to be an American.  So much has gone wrong in these past eight years and, though its hard to say, its probably why I write this from abroad, in a state of self imposed exile.  But now I feel different.  I want to go back to what feels like, my people.  Being of Indian descent and growing up in New York City has always left me feeling cold to America, the mainland as I like to call it, with its weird and strange ways.  The beer pong, the football, the strip malls and driving.  I was done with it.  I never wanted to see it again.  

I tried to come to terms with it, back in 2000, when I worked on a presidential campaign, public interest and grassroots campaigns that took me throughout 40 states.  Many long nights riding in my car, listening to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, eating beef jerky, drinking black coffee and chewing bubble gum, looking for America.  Through the purple mountain mesa tops in Utah, the star filled mountain nights in Colorado, the Ozarks, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Louisville, I realized how beautiful being American can be.  But I still felt out of place.  Though people came from all over to join us and fight against the numerous injustices in our society, I still felt a distant sense of alienation.  As if I was on Mars.  

But today, in New Delhi, an elderly gentleman, got out his guitar during our victory party and sang "The times they are changin" and then "we shall over come" and I saw all those who had been there in the 50s and 60s, who lived through assassination after assassination, and riots and maddness, see the day they never dreamed was possible and in India!  Who knows what they were doing here, perhaps they were beatniks, or hippies, or in this day and age, software developers or social entrepreneurs.  But we were all together, in India, with everyone, singing and knowing a new day had arrived for the country we all loved at one time, in some way.  And now we're back, and it's a healthy and humble patriotism, one that acknowledges the tremendous responsibility and humility that comes with power.  For I agree with Obama, we are not great for our arms and wealth alone, it is our ideals, of democracy, and liberty and opportunity that truly make us shine and will make us shine on for years to come.  

We shall re-invent, we shall always change, we will always right our wrongs eventually, because we constantly surge towards a more perfect union.  There are miles to go before we sleep, but being awake has never felt better and never more sweeter.  I look forward to dealing with the likely perils of the future with courage and dignity.  Thank you Obama.  Thank you for taking the  tougher road instead of the easy, comfortable path of privilege and showing us what we can be in this great country of ours, America.  

I have decided from this day on, I will no longer be a hyphenated American.  In no disrespect to my motherland, or ancestry, but today I have become whole, I go from Indian-American to just American.  Not from the republic of New York, or New Yorker, today I embrace all of me through this great nation of ours, as imperfect and treacherous as it can be, I know it will consistently strive to perfect itself, if not in my lifetime, in the generations to come, we will get there, I know.  This is Gabo Arora, American, sending you his love from the motherland.        

Monday, November 03, 2008

Shoot The Piano Player - Truffaut

I have seen many Truffaut films, and always felt him to be less intellectually potent though more heart-felt in his film making than his contemporaries in the New Wave.  It was Godard that transcended the frontiers of the mind, body and soul through the power of his ideas.  But Truffaut acquiesced to emotions, more so than others.  Its as if he had less to prove and thus allowed for the camera to reveal his troubled childhood and prolonged adolescence through wayward images.  

Thats what 400 blows was about and every film after with Antoine Danoiel, his very on screen alter-ego.  But Shoot The Piano Player is something else entirely, again though, with an emotional feeling that is rare within the  hyper-logique and dialogue heavy tendencies of the French.  What turns out , on paper, to be a spoof on american gangster movies, in the end is more a reflection on love and losing your way in the world.

"I can't be in two places at once" is what the lead says to his brother, when asked why it is he is in a beat-up bar playing popular diddies for the masses when he is more deserving of the pomp and celebre his previous concerts received.  The expression and the dignity he leads his life is more important.  He may be down and out, but he plays the piano as the world moves around him meaninglessly, lost and searching he has found himself, with the piano, wherever he may be.  And that comes through.  In the end, after more tragedy, he is back at the piano, whenever things take a difficult turn, the piano, but eventually the piano is to him what the rock was for sisyphus :  a reminder of his own absurdity.   

The french are not as warm as the Italians, nor as cold as the Germans, but more innovative than both when it comes to culture.  But Truffuat does the unlikely, he is able to for fleeting moments, combine a warmth with his heady mindfulness.  
There is something to the kinetic energy of the film, a quickness, that doesn't give way to superficiality.  I don't know how he does it, but the film lingers, you are able to revel in the aesthetic while being moved by the content.  

Why?  After-all its just a film about love and love lost, and succeeding and failing in the world, but then again, isn't that what everything is really about?  But its how you play your tragedy and the humanity you allow in during the inevitable demise.  And your character, this film has that character.

The entire new wave started out as critics for Les Cahiers and what always astounds me is that they made films that are beyond criticism.  I can't imagine anyone saying anything bad about shoot the piano player.  

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I have taken up photography or rather stealing my loved ones pictures...some photos from some travels through the motherland. Don't you wish you were here? Wish you were here. I was thinking about India, I am always thinking about India. It was during a re-reading of thucydides, the part where T, says extreme situations bring out the extreme in people, when in the the athens - sparta war people take to sleeping in sacred temples and killing each other for food. The lesson being that our goodness is only a result of our circumstances. But India is an exception to this rule (as it is to many, many rules). It is a cruel place, with many hardships but somehow the people shine, shine on.

My love to you from here. I am starting to miss you.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

My B Sides - for my groupies.

So below are all the postings that did not eventually make as official
blog posts over the past 2 years.

Purposely unedited, with spelling mistakes, poor thought formation,
but to cleanse and show to my loyal following the roughness and energy
of some of the work. I am at heart a beatnik and the raw comes more
often from a deeper honesty that the editing can often kill.

But you have to know the rules to break them as kerouac said. well I
don't know if I know them, but by breaking them, I am that much closer
to knowing.

Enjoy it, or ignore it, but its for you and only you.

All my love to you.


PS - a big shout out to my loyal following in Romania.

ideas for short stories

Writing. if I treat this process as mechanical and put my time in I
will see the difference. I rush and do things too fast. Thats my
problem. i need to dedicate more time and not get emotionally upset
when things don't work my way. Things move only with hard work and
dedication done without attachment. Remember that. Just write then
give it a day and look over it and then you will see a big difference.
You can write those short stories....

How about on women. Cliche but women are universal. If I could
capture the many facets of women.

1. being a beautiful woman as a man

2. Monica Lucia, 35 year old fading beauty trying so hard to hold on
to life as it slips by

3. Renu bhabi , the beautiful widow frozen in time.

4. Isabel, the woman who loved too much

5. Raping a Nun.

Top ten - HA HA

Here, just to play to my cheesy american side, I will make a list a la
letterman of my top ten concerns for humanity (I am aware that such a
framework is stupid but I want to entertain you, which I also realize
is dangerous, given you may be contented by the amusement value of
this exercise which would mask the capacity necessary to feel the true
discontent necessary to make change, in your life and in others)

- China. From their fish, to their global adventures in pursuit of
natural resources, to their dangerous quality of goods, and to their
eventual inevitable aggression. Before we pack our kids off to fight
them, wake up!

- middle east blah blah. Important but lets not get caught in a
hyponotic trance by the poetry of 9-11 and the jihad. China, asia
even is a far more important part of the world to come to terms with.

- The FARM bill. obesity, ethanol, high fructose corn syrup,
immigration, third world poverty all come colliding in big time in

- PHARM- med Complex, an 80 billion dollar a year industry.
America's make of 2 percent of the world yet consume 50 percent of
prescriptions. This is one of America's biggest exports. 10-20
percent of this usage is probably justified and a needed palliative,
but the problem is in the over-prescription and efficacy of medical

-. ok, global warming, but its more than just recycling. Stop
driving! Stop the Agricultural industrial complex. With its
pesticide run offs, antibiotic, hormone pumped meat and dairy. Not to
mention the cruelty to animals. Kill them but don't torture them.

- The internet. I know, the irony of it, but really, a better
assessment is needed to understand this medium. Currently it is
unquestioned good. We need to come to grips with its seductions and
powers. Google, GSM, facebook, there is a concern about privacy and
also a possibility that one day we will live in one big pod. American
high school reading rates also dropping, we need to do a conscious
assessment of what the digital age provides and what it takes.

There are more, but this is what is on my mind.

So what are you gonna do about it? I am uncomfortable with the
"professionalization" of activism and campaigns to save the world.
Its important but the first step has to be personal, individual, you
have to feel the gains in your life, from understanding this

Into the Wild - random ideas inspired by one of the most important American films to come out in a long time

Into the Wild

Sean Penn's new film is profound on many levels.

Historically being based in 1991 after the fall of communism and the
end of history, no coincidence.

Pre SSRIs and all the mental health maddness. in this day and age
someone like him would be convinced that they were nuts or think they
were nuts and drug themselves up. Back then these did not exist.

Plays on the tradition of Thorueu, interesting to note that the Wild
was not hostile to him back then though we have gotten so faraway from
nature that it attacks and kiils us. In all of T's writing there is
not an element of a fear of surivival. American man at that time had
sufficient contact with nature in order to surivive. Penn's character
is saved by a bus, a piece of modernity in the jungle.

The idea of solitude in nature is a strange one. Striking that Penn's
character did not want to be around people. Can't take the American
out of the boy, individualism, alienation, go at it alone mentality.

The need to cut himself off from his family. It was what he
questioned least. It gave him the greatest sense of freedom. The
family, especially post 50s American family has been the greatest
source of destruction on children, with what they feed, the schools
they send you to, the stuff they buy you, the TV they make you watch.
you can be free unless you have no feelings for them. That radicalism
is needed nowadays, that no mercy, non sentimental way of living.

He is very clearly not a hippie in the limited sense of that word. he
does not want free love, does not want drugs, does not even want sex.
he doesn't care about any of those things. He is beyond that, not
interested, what he wants is a divine connection with the wild. Why?
What does it give him?

The modern world with all its trappings is absurd and frustrating,
especially for a 22 year old searching for the truth. That was where
I ws for a time. And i am still on that journey in many ways.

New York - so far so close

Big Apple Fashions was a huge success. Its fitting irony that my
father sold dresses to black women. That they adored him and he
secretly them. Like all Indians, my father was a bit of a racist. In
that Archie Bunker, loving way. New York egged on his prejudices.
The city is surprisingly tolerant to expressing verbal bigotry,
probably explaining why we all get along so well. Because we express
just how we feel about jews, the chinese, gays, blacks. If you over
hear any real new york crowd of kids on a school yard, faggot and
don't jew me out are a accepted part of endearing yourself to someone.
Political correctness was invented by upper west side liberals who
went to columbia and NYU. The rest of us used language to express our
endless frustrations.

My father was also an anti-semite. Jew this and jew that. He got a
c+ in graduate school in a course taught by a jew. It was his only
non A grade, and he became convinced it was because of the jew. In
the the class there were also my father's other indian friends.
According to him they got c+'s as well. I heard that story millions
of times. I got strange chills reading Mein Kahph years later with
Hitler expressing similar dismay over a C he recieved by a jew that
turned him off painting. Jews should be careful with grades they
give. man.

But my father loved Israeli jews, and the orthodox. He called them
real jews. Most of his interaction was at the falafel place on Jewel
aveneue, a hassidic enclave. Back then, there were not many options
for vegetarians when they wanted to eat out. My parents would eat
pizza or go for falafel. overtime these falafel joints became hindu
haunts. It was filled with yamacas, those hairy curls, turbans,
salwar kammezes, it was astounding how well we got along. I still
remember the warmth and friendliness of many of those people. They
would come sit next to my father and talk of india. Many had gone
there after their military service. India held a special place in
their heart for them.

I dream of Brando

In the Rajastani desert, this past summer, I had a communion with
Brando's spirit. He made me realize who i was: an actor and a
teacher. I couldn't believe that we got together but there he was,
standing by a window, over looking paris, asking me who I thought I
was. He did it with a sense of strenght, no nonsense directness, with
love and kindness.

I remembered this watching "The Ugly American" the other night, a
hallow film, made brighter and candid by Brando in the leading role.
He overpowers it with each move, perfectly doing what he always does:
be himself yet still convince you somehow of the role he plays. Its
as if brando is everything, takes on so many characters but what you
see, and what attracts you to him is his authencity. You know deep
down, he is always brando, and he winks and nods to you underneath
there but it doesn't take away from the character. He tells you to be
anything you want to be, as long as you know who you are and have a
strong foundation on that. Everything else is just play.

Live by the Drug, Die by the Drug

Live by the Drug, Die by the Drug

This modern world puts you between a rock and a hard place. It makes
you choose between your first born or your left arm. The calculus and
choices it imposes through its framework and rules is horrific. It
just wants you take the first step into the maze, and then its got
you. Take a drug, it makes you feel better, though now that you have
accepted this game, you have to work your way around the haphazard
science and the side effects. Try new ones, old ones don't work
anymore, keep uneasy, unstable, completely preoccupied with the state
of your health and mind.

Health, its the way to de-stabalize any resistance. How you gonna
fight george bush if you are sick? If we are not internally well, all
big changes are lost. Thats why they attack it, sickness is the basis
of domination in America. Their business is to make you sick and then
make you better. Providing solutions to the problems they created and
keep this cycle going. This is what is called economic growth and
progress folks. Wake up.

Always the lesser evil is justified in a world of such intense
suffering. Nothing is seen as being sacred, true, pure, the right
way. A good friend takes welbutrin to quit smoking, my expressing my
horror at such a choice is met with my not caring about how lung
cancer will end his life. My sister wants bariactric surgery, she is
obese and her diabetes is getting to her. Decisions decisions. I am
told I am an extremist and unrealistic. The day people stop saying
that about me, I know I will be doing something wrong. This world can
only be met with extremism and to be a realist is to be insane and
completely unhappy.

I met a great young woman, though a woman is a woman is a woman. Even
if they are activist revolutionaries. She doesn't believe in the
pursuit of happiness. And is not sure if anyone is happy. I felt so
sorry for her though she wanted to feel sorry for me. Its sickness
when we like feeling sorry for people. Patronizing, christian,
charitable, mind sickness.

If only you understood what its like to be alive, out in the wild.
But you are too scared to travel. To comfortable with your pain.

But these lame people, there only aim is to instill doubt in yourself.
Some doubt is healthy, but don't confuse doubt with fear.

I understand Neitzhe's frustration with people. We institutionalize
and justify weakness. We coddle people's problems, we take ourselves
way to seriously and fret when we have everything.

even if you got what you wanted, you would still be unhappy. Don't
you see that it has little to do with that? Our mind falls into
patterns and churns away good and bad.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Telling stories to myself

My friend, in explaining his justification for taking psycho-tropic pharmaceticuel medication for his mental disorder, told me a story.  About synapses and seratonin.  He is a bright guy, full of intellectual rigor and I realized quite suddenly that his decision to take this drug was because the story that was told to him about his brain made sense to him.  In fact, without that story he would not have taken it.  There had to be a story.  Now whether or not that story was complete, true, or false, is hard to assess.  Most of medicine for years and years has not been based on these stories but authority.  But the empowered consumers we are now, makes experts create elaborate stories about our brains.  And it works.  

Likewise, nations create myths, build histories bending the truth and in some cases lying outright (Israel) - but who cares, it works.  

Stories are powerful, especially the ones we tell ourselves.  

We all have them.  They either haunt us or give us a sense of worth.  But to what extent do they have to be true?  Fake stories also have their utilitarian function.  

As a child, my father used to call me a genius.  He used to say I could do whatever I wanted, that I was the smartest boy he knew.  Imagine the effect this has on a 5 year old.  I immediately felt a sense of responsibility, of having to always be the best, and prove my father right.  I often wonder how I would be if I wasn't given this encouragement as a child.  

In retrospect, I am no brighter than the average bright kid.  But my father with this story, he captured my imagination, and made me work to make it true.  

What stories do you tell yourself?  If we just break down all the narratives we have flowing endlessly in our minds, it would tell a lot about us.  I am not saying there isn't any objective reality out there, a truth, a certain way, but there are blurry lines, that can be crossed, smudged over that can make the difference, make the reality, reality.  

Positive affirmations work on this assumption.  As does Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain.  These techniques work, I don't know how, but they work.  

The mind is such a powerful thing.  Its sad that most of us subject it to television and allow other people to fill it with nonsense and worse, so many people drink it away.  Maybe they are afraid of their powers.  Of what's possible.  For with power comes responsibility.  

Dear reader (you know I love to refer to you as such), I miss you, wherever you are.  I send an electronic rose for your troubles and sorrows.


But cheer up and take in the day.

I am here in Delhi awaiting the change of seasons.  What a marvelous place to be, even as bombs go off around me.  

I know I have not written in quite sometime.  It happens.  But I owe to much to this blog to abandon it.  Whenever I meet new people and they discover this archive, I feel as if they have had the privilege of entering and playing with my soul.  If they care, at least there is a written testament to what I believe in, what moves me, and the beauty of words.  

I met a girl in Lebanon who said my style reminded her of Henry Miller.  

Another girl wanted to fuck me immediately, while reading Blake.  

This all plays so well with my narcissism.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

INDICORPS - A Wounded Brand

By far, besides my loyal following, most of the traffic I have received on my blog is due to the Indicorps controversy.  To this day I still get letters asking my opinion, people who had the same doubts I did about the organization, about whether Indicorps is connected with the Hindu right wing.  

All I can say is that whether it is true or not matters less and less as these rumors and doubts continue.  After awhile, it is about what people perceive you to be, there has to be a serious effort to protect your brand.  

I wrote Indicorps and had an extensive dialogue to work hard to clear these myths.  At this point I suggest they either change their name, post a statement on their blog, or higher a PR firm to enhance their reputation.  I don't think it is possible to keep ignoring this issue. 

But why the lingering doubts?  It is not just cyber surfing, I receive emails from people who WORK with them and have a great time but then feel uncomfortable hearing things from respected leaders of other NGOs on the ground.  

There is no problem with any of Indicorps work, it is their supposed affiliations and their at times questionable neutrality.  

To give you a feel of the controversy and to sum simply the problem I am posting my standard reply to a whole host of queries.   

Dear X,

It is murky territory.  They do great work, are extremely professional, but are people who do not want to take a stance or rock the boat.  Personally they are secular and liberal in outlook, but they refuse to criticize and at times for practical reasons will work with and collaborate with known abusers of human rights (Narendra Modi).

They interpret non-political as apolitical, meaning they focus only on their projects and will work with any government to get that work done and also to ensure that they can continue to do the work.  

My biggest gripe was their acceptance of an award from Narendra Modi AFTER the gujarat riots and Sonal Shah's name on the VHP america website as "national coordinator", which is still there by the way

It is up to you.  Your volunteers will have no problem with them, that I can ensure you.  It is about the level of your principles.  

I really like their work and told them to make some clear statements of separation but they felt this would endanger their presence in India.  

That is the story.  How activist do you want your service organization to be?  Its a tough question.  But I suggest you engage them with any thoughts you have as they are very open about this issue.  Sometimes we need to make compromises and you need to decide if this is one of those times.  

with best,


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Civilization and its contents

Bologna, Italy - June 23, 2008

And just like that I'm back in Italy where I belong.  In the beautiful scenery, riding my bicycle through narrow lanes filled with history and tradition.    My soul re-awakens as if emerging from falsehood with greater clarity and over-all happiness in just being.  Not anxious, not trying to force anything, just taking in the surroundings deeply.  When surrounded by immense beauty one can doing nothing and do so much just taking it all in. There isn't the same senseless American need to consume and move; running around like a chicken with its head cut-off. 

In America vitality comes from culture and creativity thus the energy, at times misused.  In italy you're given a head start, everything is combined with the depth of the past; within the active ruins of a once great civilization.  Every morning you wake up knowing through feeling that something great happened here.     

Maybe its greatness lies not in being being ancient but with something much simpler:

"The factor which renders Greece's mountains, villages, and soil buoyant and immaterial is the light.  In Italy the light is soft and feminine, in Ionia extremely gentle and full of oriental yearning, in Egypt think and voluptuous.  In Greece the light in entirely spiritual.  Able to see clearly in this light, man succeeded in imposing order over chaos, in establishing 'cosmos' - and cosmos means harmony." - Kazantzakis 

I wonder who I am at times.  Of what elements I am made of.  New York City and New Delhi though deeply influenced by the African American experience and Latin America and Italy.  

Italy the only place outside my two homes where I have felt at home.  It somehow combines elements of both.  Rational and passionate amidst chaos.  

Why do I forget about Colombia?  I am after all "Gabo".  I went searching for Macondo once and found it just like I imagined.  With the most handsomest drowned man.  But now I've left it behind, happiness there.  My leaving was proof I don't want the easy life.  That I come from great civilization(s) and prefer action to paradise.  Colombia was astoundingly new.  Completely refreshing and liberating to experience a society with no sexual hang-ups.  Passion, dancing, music, all sensually, effortless.  No girl sleeps with a man who does not dance.  

As I am both from Western and Eastern civilization, with both now controlling sexuality to a high degree or at the very least making an issue out of it, I felt respite from those worlds.  For the first time.  I was able to leave the spectrum, the pendulum, completely see things in a new way.  

The East and West define themselves in terms of each other but Latin America is off doing its own thing.  
Speaking of the greatness of civilization, a little "Report to Greco"

"Civilization begins at the moment sport begins"

"As long as life struggles for preservation - to protect itself from its enemies, maintain itself upon the surface of the Earth - civilization cannot be born.  It is born the moment that life satisfies its primary needs and begins to enjoy a little leisure."

"How is this leisure to be used, how apportioned among various social classes, how increased and refined to the utmost?  According to how each race and epoch solves these problems, the worth and substance of its civilization can be judged." - kazantzakis 

This ties in well with Betrand Russell's "In praise of idleness" but let us leave us something till next time, shall we?  And of course I will share more on my experiences in Delhi.  Letters from Delhi.  Peace and Love.