Replaying 1930s? 

November 9, 2016 - Leave a Response

Is liberalism distasteful of popular choices? That’s the fateful question I faced after expressing disappointment at Donald Trump winning US presidential elections.

Don’t heed the fear mongering, the world will be just fine, said another comforting advise.

As the humanity turns to adventurous political choices once again, we have a pantheon of savy demagogues strutting on the world stage. And many more aspirants are waiting in the wings.

The identity politics feeding virulent nationalism has re-established its sway after a rout following the last big war. Suddenly, the liberals are typecast as contrarians, and pushed hard for explanations which looked obvious till recently. 

Why am I cagey about popular choices? 

The concern is about a world looking increasingly frustrated. The disappearing lustre of living in the developed markets and the timidity of progress in the developing ones are tearing up hard won social comforts. But when globalism is cruel, parochialism has to return.

Peering into the school history textbooks, I had wondered how Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini became who they were. An ageing white man or a woman in the Rust Belt of Trump’s America has spend a lifetime watching globalisation pass by shuttered factories and closed mines.

An innately wise humanity is a truant ideal, often seeking escapades in troubled times. The brittleness of a descending life brings the mob to the gates of a stubborn hero.

Are we swinging back to the dystopian fix of the 1930s? 

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Mythical majority in a land of billion tyrannies

August 16, 2016 - Leave a Response

Minority (n)

1. The smaller part or number; a number, part or amount forming less than half of the whole.

2. A radical, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial or social power without regard to the size of these groups.

The paradox of Indian living has found expressions in ‘millions’ and ‘billions’. That too from outsiders who are often bewildered and enchanted — not in that order nor in equal parts — by the numerified subcontinental existence.

VS Naipul called it ‘the land of million mutinies’. MNC marketers standing on the fringes shout out to the ‘billion people’ market. For some economists, India’s ‘billion’ is a tremendous demographic dividend (though we hear less about it in these times of jobless growth).

As we live in the midst of some hectic social engineering, let’s also call it the land of a million minorities. Why?

Indians have existed in an unequal, conflict driven society for ages. Those inequities and conflicts are now magnified in our daily living. Don’t mistake it as an ugly religious portend.

We are increasingly conflicted on social, economic and cultural mobility, often minorities battling inequities in individual living. Each one of us are at war with prejudices and tyrannies, pumped up by hormonal changes in our national consciousness. 

The unnerving social mores of the past, which managed to cast away individual transgressions, isn’t a cohesive balm any longer. Individuals are boldly talking (and negotiating) with each other and with the State.

It’s probably gentrification of the resistance, which was so uncool. The young are rebelling and mobilizing against swelling tyrannies of households, castes, campuses and politics. They are up against a perceived majority, never numbered but always foisted on us as ‘a way of living’. The single most abused expression in the Indian narrative. 

The boys and girls in Una or in Imphal want a new social covenant. They are a million minorities, who are defiled in everyday living, but challenging the tyrannies of an invisible, mythologized majority.

The day of miracle

August 10, 2016 - Leave a Response

Miracles. What are they?

A Jesuit priest who sermoned some weeks ago said miracles are just natural happenstances in unnatural settings.

He pointed to the despairing life in a chaotic metro. Where living summons unnatural ethos. Do we realize how a ravaging life leaves us faithless?

Faith is a basic tenet to good life. On ordinary days and during uncomplicated times. In our otherwise living, miracles are a throwback to faithfulness, to our trusting ways. 

Maybe, miracles are just natural beings we ignored down the life. Only to embrace them in sheer wonder someday.

That day. 

Dystopian ideal

July 9, 2016 - Leave a Response

I am holding back reactions these days. I don’t know if life is any better for it. The days of ‘determined consensus’ are here.

The world around me has been fractious more than ever. There’s something in the wind that makes opinions and attitudes divisive. A dystopian ideal, truly.

Reactions and outbursts have given us friends and foes, making life more real. My history professor, a grey bearded man with emotional roller coasters, said life (and marriages) were a tussle between reflexes and reflections.

So what if we are in echo chambers now? We don’t live any longer.

Living in times of Nationalism

January 26, 2016 - Leave a Response

In 1995, the interview board of Asian College of Journalism, asked me whether I thought nationalism was dead as a political force. At 24, I just saw Soviet Union and Cold War being buried under the Siberian snow. Berlin Wall had fallen and the promise of universalism was gaining hold of our lives.

My reply that nationalism was alive and kicking met with guffaws but won attention. I can’t recollect the immediate trigger for that answer in favour of nationalism.

The Balkans and Central Asia in the post Soviet era had become playground for identity politics and gruesome ethnic wars. The ‘rogue’ states and its leaders — playing on etnic, religious and cultural identities — wouldn’t take the world to an utopian village. Two decades later, and tired of journalism, I am swamped by some riveting talk on nationalism now.

Right wing politics is running guilt free again. Economic slump and badly managed free world ideals have pushed societies to an uncertain setting. The antediluvian forces are roaring back.

Nationalism, in dark places, is a bad construct. It’s an immersive belief taking swathes of ordinary folks to the brink of history.

Are we entering a phase of unbridled nationalism in India, seeking glory at any cost? When political marketing holds the joy of patriotism under seige.

The fervour is self consuming and the varied mind is fast becoming a misfit. Then I am calling it depravity, a national disease.

Ambitions

October 27, 2015 - Leave a Response

Apologists of economic triumphalism walk on water. Their narrative often hides troubling realities.

We are in the midst of one such act, in India.

Many Indians voted for a national government which they argued would herald unbridled progress. It was majoritarian wish in a democracy.

I wasn’t surprised to read this column from a successful entrepreneur lambasting critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic thinking marked by its out-sized ambitions. Manish Sabharwal, chairman of staffing company Teamlease, argues that India needs unrealistic ambitions to put behind the current sedate state of affairs.

No arguments on it.

He then suggests that nations are narratives, made by stories of their own. That’s where I have serious beef with him. Should economic narrative sidetrack deeper societal turmoils?

Sabharwal makes passing mention about the crazy right wing fringe threatening a mandate for progress. What he calls fringe activity is a revisionist plan upsetting the idea of India — as a diverse, secular state.

The fringe hijacks democracy when the majority drifts on indifference. When a national discourse fixated on economic wellbeing lacks empathy.

Embittered societies burdened with unrealistic ambitions have faced grevious accidents. History shows it doesn’t work.

Ideologies

September 19, 2015 - Leave a Response

Just read a good, long narrative on Jorge Mario Bergoglio or Pope Francis, possibly the most written about head of Catholics in living memory.

It struck me for exploring how Francis defies ideological categorizations. Because ideologies hide and defame reality. We don’t serve ideas, we serve people, he aruged.

In my networking life these days I come across people talking up nationalistic fervour. “We are interested in what is good for India, nothing else,” said one gentleman who runs a real estate brokerage recently.

Without doubting their good intentions to fix a nation on the peripheries of global glory, let’s say that a billion people are in search of better living. Nothing more.

Will the rethoric of nationalism take us there? Ideological constructs of political, ethnic, economic and religious making have heaped human tragedies over the centuries. Nations appeared naked after frenzied high tides.

Nationalism and the proxy of economic progress worked well — for some. It never was large hearted and excluded swathes of people who didn’t toe the narrative. Nationalistic stirrings invariably trampled on human decency.

The refugee boats to Europe — and men, women and children lost in high seas — reminded us how ideologies discarded so many lives. How our journeys were shipwrecked.

Conversations

September 9, 2015 - 3 Responses

“Let’s face it, technology has made us lazy. It turns us into the equivalent of that guy hanging out at the bar who thinks it takes too long and is just too bloody difficult to chat up the pretty girl standing next to him, and would rather rifle through the countless Tinder profiles on his phone, hoping to get lucky. Worse, he probably hasn’t even looked up long enough from his obsessive swiping to notice her”

This is an excerpt from a remarkable blog by a friend which made me worry about conversations drying up in my life. About my loneliness in a wireless social world. Good, long conversations are self-discovering. It stems from pauses, reflections and leisure. Things I have dropped in the mundane rush.

Can we rekindle real conversations?  Let’s talk our way to a better living. Loneliness is silent killer in a hyperlinked world

Refugee

August 28, 2015 - Leave a Response

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Leaving home has never been easy. So imagine the plight that takes people from the arid climes to homeless living on frosty Scandinavian streets.

This week in Stockholm was a peek into the brewing migrant crisis. There were conversations around growing local consternation and floating empathy for illegal immigrants from the fragile worlds of Middle East and the Balkans.

A middle aged man, possibly a father, sitting on the pavement with a wry defeated smile. An elderly headscrafed women seeking alms with defiant hope.  These vignettes brought poignancy to fashionable streets where people walk briskly into their languid lives.

Then came soul crushing front page images in today’s International New York Times of a little boy seperated from his migrant parents amidst police action on Macedonia border. The Wall Street Journal captured pictures of Syrian refugees breaching fenced borders in Hungary as police waited on them.

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Prosperous European nations like Germany, Sweden and UK, also with some of the best social welfare schemes, is grappling waves of refugees fleeing economic distress and crusading fundamentalists. Europe has witnessed surging right wing nationalism, possibly the most threatening since WWII, as a backlash to these pouring immigrants.

German chancellor Angela Merkel was booed by ultra nationalists as she visited refugee centres earlier this week. “There is no tolerance toward those who question the dignity of other people. The more people make it clear… the stronger we will be,” she was quoted in WSJ. Some grace it was.

People leaving homes in search of elusive hope is a cruel predicament. A reminder of the volatile living. As Murakami said, “be kind, life is more fragile than we think”.

Three Friends

August 18, 2015 - Leave a Response

August 16, Sunday. A night out at Karnataka State Cricket Association Club in Bangalore:

Three colleagemates, in their early 40s now, order brandy on a wet weekend. We have been friends for nearly 25 years. Our conversations are mostly nostalgic  — great films of yesteryears, college revelry in balmy Chennai and girlfriends we lost or never had.

But we are on unchartered waters this night. We spoke about rising communal feelings, about religiosity becoming the counterculture. All three, originally from Kerala, a state with remarkable social cohesion, couldn’t believe it’s falling apart there too.

Cold night reveals vulnerabilities. One of us said, “why would our kids stay in this country?” A few generations would drift with the social polarization, I said, influenced by Turkey and Orhan Pamuk. The idea of majoritarianism (of any kind) left ordinary men and women helpless.

A career business journalist, I have been swamped by talk of development imperatives in a country held back only by its timidity. The irony of emerging markets economic euphoria at the cost of basic freedoms (or choices) never had my vote.

A Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian have been friends for long. We, three imperfect men, never romanticized our togetherness. We were free. Tonight we’re brooding in a buzzing club.

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