Abki Bar Modi Sarkar

Everybody loves Narendra Modi — my roommate and his office colleagues, his office colleagues and their moms and everybody else you care to ask. After all, isn’t he like, lovable? Of course he is. Who doesn’t love a guy who gets things done, like you know, make the trains run on time? He has “developed” Gujarat so much so that when you are in Gujarat, you feel like you are in the US… such nice roads and big big companies. Plus, the dude has Bollywood instincts too… the other day he was spotted stalking a woman. Wow! Such a macho man, isn’t he?

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But then, however lovable you are, there are those morons who are going to hate you for some reason or the other. People found a fault with even Ram, the epitome of perfection. Haters gonna hate, as they say. And what do these haters have to say about Modi? Utter senseless crap!

Listen to this. They say we should not forget 2002! Duh! Forgiveness, dude, forgiveness! Did your religion not teach you that? Forget and move on. What if 700-800 people were killed, many more injured, women were raped and cut into pieces and men burnt alive? What if even a former MP wasn’t spared? What if his party workers participated in the acts, his police were complicit (and later, in many cases, refused to file complaints as well). But did Modi do it? No way! How could he? Wasn’t he sitting in his AC cabin when the events were unfolding? You can’t blame the guy. He is as innocent as the kids who saw their fathers go out with swords and kill their neighbours. Poor guy…being hounded by the judiciary and social activists for the crimes he didn’t commit.

And dude, look at the development he has brought to Gujarat. When you are in Gujarat, you feel as if you are in the US (in full disclosure, I have never been to the US or even Gujarat, but that’s what I have heard them say about Gujarat). Such nice roads, and such big, big MNCs and home-grown conglomerates everywhere. Those haters accuse him of giving companies cheap land and tax breaks and subsidized electricity, etc. But isn’t that a small price we have to pay to get the “development”? Oh wait… that’s not even a price. How else would we get our shiny hatchbacks or SUVs we cannot live without? To digress, I don’t know how those adivasis manage without even a bike. But why care about them anyway? We have our tall tall buildings, shiny shiny cars and broad broad roads. Wait… You say you don’t live in Gujarat and hence don’t have those nice broad roads yet? Exactly why I want to say: Abki Bar, Modi Sarkar.

Modi_Sarkar

Do not bother about the fact that Gujarat is worse than other progressive states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the Human Development Index. Gujarat lags behind many other states on implementing welfare schemes, in the condition of the health and education sectors. The Narmada project has displaced thousands of people. But do not worry about them. They do not matter. Eighty per cent of our population does not matter. They are such primitive, ignorant fools anyway. They do not even know how to rid themselves of poverty. And then they complain about their land and their water being snatched away. But unless we take their land and their forest and their water, how can we get nice nice roads and shiny shiny cars? They do not even understand this basic fact and then they start morchas and dharnas and uposhans and what not. Such primitive people. And then those haters are just too happy to take up their cause. But…haters gonna hate. Do not worry about them. Instead say with me:

Nice nice roads, shiny shiny cars
Abki Bar Modi Sarkar

Social Media and the Democratization of Politics

Social_Media_Politics

Social media has democratized public sphere. It has given people a platform to express their thoughts, comment on current affairs and debate policy issues. And now that newsmakers (politicians, celebrities) and newsbrokers (reporters, editors, columnists) both have joined Facebook and Twitter en masse, social media’s influence has grown manifold.

Arvind Kejriwal, Sushma Swaraj, Narendra Modi, Kapil Sibal and Arun Jaitley are a few of the high-profile politicians who are active Twitter users (a major exception is the “leader of the youth” Rahul Gandhi). AAP effectively used social media to build its campaign as well as increase voter turn-out in the Delhi assembly elections. On the occasion of Holi, Modi sent a personalised digital poster with greetings to each of his Twitter followers. Parties are highly banking on social media for their campaigning for the upcoming Loksabha elections. Votes are being sought, information is being disseminated, and allegations are being hurled at each other. Parties are hoping that retweets and likes will translate into votes.

Narendra Modi's personalized Holi poster.

Narendra Modi’s personalized Holi poster.

Whenever a major news story breaks in the day, Twitter becomes a battlefield with expert commentaries, sly, witty, humourous takes on the story and alternative narratives. Political discussions have generally been mediated by mainstream media. Social media has challenged this one way flow of information and opinions. When the December 2012 gang rape happened, social media played a major role in shaping the debate around women’s issues. A part of the credit for taking the Jan Lokpal movement ahead also goes to social media.

Social media has certainly democratized the “expression of thought”, but few people have means to participate in this public sphere yet. In the country of 1,200 million people, only around 200 million have access to internet. A large chunk of these 200 million belongs to either urban middle and upper strata or rural higher class.

On Twitter, newsbreakers and newsbrokers have hijacked the conversations around political issues as they set the agenda as to what topics will be discussed and how. They have the first access to information. Their “followers count” runs into thousands. No wonder their voice has the highest frequency. Social media is no different from mass media as far as political discussions are concerned. Rural issues do not have a place on social media, nor do issues about marginalized communities (except homosexual groups). Labor issues, peasant issues are kept at a hand’s distance. A politician’s wayward comment gets more people talking than a policy issue. Just like TV, Twitter also likes to focus all its attention on one single issue at a time – mostly a breaking news.

A major strength of the written word is that it is durable and more forceful than a spoken word. When people write down their thoughts, it gives an illusion (to them and others too) that they are saying something meaningful. This may or may not be the case. Social media is predominantly textual in its current avatar, and it has undoubtedly given a new dimension to the “expression of thought”. But has it really changed the power equations as to who controls the information and who gets heard?

What Feminism Really Is

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Yesterday I read this report about a new social networking site called State which is designed around the idea of opinion sharing. But unlike Facebook or Twitter, State requires you to choose a “topic” before you can “state” your opinion. I found this idea interesting and hence created an account right away.

As I started exploring the site I came across the topic of Feminism. But as I read the opinions that various users had posted (or “stated”), I started feeling disturbed. The Snapshot section on the right bar depressed me more: the top two words that commenters had used to describe feminism were “destructive” and “sexist”.

Following are two comments which are more or less representative of the discussion:

Being a woman in 2014 is piss easy, you get everything handed to you.
Equal rights were reached years ago, now the feminist goal is female supremacy.

blaming an entire gender for you problems is not about equality

The first comment is a proof of ethnocentrism that dictates many of the discussions about feminism (or any other topic for that matter) and second comment shows that people do not understand what feminism really is. Feminism’s goal is not female supremacy; the goal is to end women’s exploitation so that they can enjoy basic human rights like liberty and equality (Is that too much to ask for?).

Feminism does not say women should be treated better than men. Feminism does not consider men its enemy. Feminism does not fight against men: it fights against patriarchy. There is a difference. Patriarchy is an evil system and both men and women are complicit in its perpetuation — consciously or unconsciously. Feminism’s goal is to end this system of exploitation and control. But it does not want to achieve this by shooting the perpetrators or sending them to jail (we are not Maoists). It aims to change the mindset of people by showing why patriarchy is an unjust system and how it harms both women and men.

Contrary to what the first commenter says, being a woman in 2014 is NOT easy. Women still get raped. They still get beaten by their husbands. Their agency is controlled in myriad ways on a daily basis.

Feminism is misunderstood by many. It is an egalitarian ideology and not a supremacist one. The victory of feminism will benefit both the sexes equally. Men and women have to live together on this planet earth. Both are interdependent. Better life for one means better life for the other too.

On Reading VP Kale’s Partner

There are three things which I really value in life — sleep, solitary walks, and yes, reading! I grew up reading in Marathi, my mother tongue. But since moving to Mumbai in 2008 Marathi has got a short shrift while English has taken its place. But once in a while I pick up a Marathi book and realize what a fool I’ve been to neglect my mother tongue.

Last week I was at a friend’s place for a sleepover. He was showing us a few Marathi books he had bought. One of them was VP Kale’s most famous novel, Partner. I grabbed the book as soon as I saw it as I wanted to read it for quite sometime. I saw the number of pages — 159 — finishable in two-three seatings! I immediately put the book in my bag.

Partner_BookCover

And I wasn’t disappointed. The book was engrossing from the very first chapter. Vapu (वपु), as he is fondly called by his fans, is an effortless storyteller and a philosopher. The two come together in Partner to create a beautiful masterpiece. Vapu tackles the age-old questions of relationships, marriage, family, attachment, love, etc. The book is full of Vapu’s philosophical moorings but he shies away from advocating any one way of living while painting the whole canvas of life from asceticism to sybaritism at the same time.

This was my second book of Vapu; the first one being Hi Vaat Ektichi (ही वाट एकटीची). Both books exemplify the fact that Vapu was a feminist at heart. Vapu’s hero gets up before his wife, makes tea for her and cleans the kitchen tiles too (Partner). His heroine dares to leave her parents and raise a child, born in unusual circumstances, on her own (Hi Vaat Ektichi).

I’ve read many English novels so far but it’s always the Marathi ones which leave a stronger impression on me. It’s not like I do not enjoy reading English literature but it somehow seems foreign (as a matter of fact, it is). It does not touch my heart the way a novel like Yayati (ययाति) does or Shala (शाळा) does. Only a Ratnakar Matkari story holds the power to give me sleepless nights. These works are rooted in the earth I live in, they are about my region, my people, my culture and, most importantly, in my language — with all its idiosyncrasies and beauty. Hence they are so effortlessly evocative and enchanting.

21 February was Mother Tongue Day and 27 February is Marathi Language Day. So this will be good time to resolve to read more in Marathi. I hope this post encourages you to seek treasures in your own mother tongue too.

Text Me to Sleep

One of my fondest memories of college is a weird conversation that I once had with a classmate of mine in the middle of a lecture. The conversation itself wasn’t weird: the way we had it, was. So this friend would write what she wanted to tell me in her notebook and then pass it on to me. (We were sitting beside each other.) I would read and respond to it in my own notebook and give it to her. We kept doing this throughout the lecture — masking our amused faces and suppressing our childish giggles. Thankfully the professor didn’t notice.

I do not know how this idea struck us. But I wonder — in this age of WhatsApp — would anyone find this way of communicating even remotely interesting? The internet-based instant messaging apps like WhatsApp — and BBM before it — have transformed texting. They have not only increased the volume of textual communication but fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other.

Texting3

My first exposure to texting was Yahoo Messenger. Later on I used Orkut Chat, GTalk, Facebook Messenger, etc. But the problem with these desktop IM apps was that you could not carry them in your pocket. You had to go “online” to use them, and there were only so many hours in a day you could be online. Besides, the person you wished to talk to also had to be online, thus diminishing the usability further. Mobile instant messaging apps have solved this problem. The production of cheaper smartphones, affordability of mobile internet services and the advent of WhatsApp — the coming together of all these things have taken texting to a new level.

The biggest benefit of texting is that you can always stay in touch with the persons you wish to stay in touch with — no more need of “time nahi milta yaar” grouses as everybody is just a ‘hi’ away. A phone call has this same affordance but it has other limitations. A phone call needs to be answered immediately and you cannot take a call in a noisy place. And the biggest disadvantage of a call (or any aural communication for that matter) is that you can be overheard. I think this last point is what makes texting so much more alluring. Even if you are talking crap, bitching about someone or sexting your partner — you can rest assured that no one can eavesdrop on you (except the NSA maybe).

Texting

This is not the first time that man is using written words to communicate. We have been writing letters for centuries. But texting is quite different from letter writing or its digital avatar, email. Texting is generally instant, informal and impromptu. It comes a lot closer to face-face-face communication than any other mode of textual communication. Therefore, the language also resembles speech a lot. Punctuations are sparingly used, or not used at all, messages are sent in small chunks consisting of monosyllables or phrases, and emoticons are used to imbue feelings in the conversations.

Texting1

When talking face-to-face, you have to get the intonation right, show right expressions on your face, and have proper body language. This is a lot of work for someone like me who is always low on energy. Texting requires you to only use your fingers. There are no awkward silences in texting: you can take your time to come up with a witty reply. And if you are sad, upset, angry — you can easily mask those emotions too.

Facebook just bought the world’s biggest texting app WhatsApp. This has worried some people who think Facebook may ruin the charm of the app by introducing ads or killing its simplicity (yes, security concerns also figure right at the top). I read a Guardian article which makes a case for an open network texting app on the lines of the email. The writer says

If Gmail users could only send email to other Gmail users, and my Thunderbird desktop email software could only send to others using the same package, email would soon turn into a monopoly controlled by one company. The open internet created email standards that were available to everyone, and the monopoly never had a chance to happen.

I hope to see the same happening to texting where we are able to send texts from WhatsApp to WeChat or WeChat to Viber and Viber to WhatsApp, etc. But whatever turn the technology takes, it is my firm belief that it’ll not turn us into robots, it will only make us more humane.