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The Delights of A “Non Smart” Phone

April 5, 2014

Being without social networks has its perks. The phone size gets a lot smaller.

The texts are not in a series for you to scroll through it and remind yourself about all the things you were supposed to do and have not done.

You do not get constantly woken up by the sounds of beeps – Text messages, Whatsapp, Facebook messages, Facebook notifications, mails, tweets and whatever else you are subscribed to.

You do not feel compelled to start your day by reaching out to your phone as soon as your eyes are open and scroll through all the messages received, allowing that to set your mood for the day.

Your phone remains silent a lot more. Most people don’t bother calling and prefer messaging, so you might have missed that important meeting notifications. But you didn’t know about it, so you cannot stress about it. Right now.

Logging onto Facebook has a novelty value. You actually go “hmm” on all the posts. You do not get annoyed by photographs and videos of everyone’s kids and might even decide to view one of them when you log on from your computer.

You get distracted a lot less. That is, once you get over the habit of automatically reaching for the phone when your mind goes blank every other minute.

You learn to listen to the voices in your head.

You finally pick up those books you bought in the strong hope of wanting to read them.

You might forget appointments since they are not listed in the calender, but then again, since the alarm didn’t go off, you continue with your peace blissfully (for the short duration at least).

You learn to recognize, if not memorize, more numbers given that your simple phone does not have the capacity to store your 3000 numbers and email IDs and all other relevant details.

You forget about Candy Crush and all those games and learn to enjoy the frustration of a small screen and a silly game.

Most importantly, the phone fits in your pocket, can fall a few times without any worry and even if it does break, all it costs is a couple of grand and a loss of 10 numbers that you probably remember anyway.

The Politics of Language

April 5, 2014

More than a decade ago, when it was proposed that every bus in Karnataka had to have the bus number in Kannada as well, I thought it was ridiculous. Buses are for the public and there are plenty of people in the state who cannot read Kannada. Hell, even people who read Kannada take a minute to decipher the numbers as we are so used to the English numbers. It was then proposed that it be made mandatory for everyone living in Bangalore to learn Kannada. I thought this was a little silly too. Then they said let every kid in school learn Kannada and I merely shrugged. Kids can learn more languages easily and one more language is always good.

But when I heard that Nandan Nilekani, the former chief of Infosys and current Congress candidate from South Bangalore, tried to give an election speech in English and was booed out of the auditorium, I strangely understood.

English is a language I use more than Kannada. I write in English. I talk more in English. Yet, it was somehow blasphemous that a potential political candidate would use English in his speech.

There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, South Bangalore is one of the oldest parts of Bangalore. Though there is a mix of people from other cultures – Tamilians, Telugites etc, Kannada is the predominant language in this reason. Most people know and use this language to interact with neighbours, regardless of what they speak indoors.

Secondly, Kannada has been struggling against the massive influx of other languages. The Kannada pride, as that may be, is much lesser than seen in other languages. We do not insist on parading the language, or insist on being fanatical like some neighbouring states. The dialects in this language are also quite varied. For instance, a person from South Karnataka can barely understand the Kannada spoken in the northern regions of the state, though they are both technically speaking the same language.

The cultural support that exists for the language hurts it more than it would have perhaps if there was none. Most people who are locals shudder at the thought of watching a Kannada movie, particularly in the theater. The film community, in an attempt to ‘safeguard’ the language, have various restrictions that include no dubbing of other movies into Kannada, no taxes for Kannada movies and reserving a certain percentage of movie screens across Bangalore for Kannada movies alone.

Despite these moves, much of the upper middle class rarely watches a Kannada movie in the theatres. The reason? The movies have bad storylines, worse acting, over-the-top sequences and are made by a monopolistic family. New talent in the field has to have the approval of the ‘first family’ of the industry.

Movies increasingly are the one way to sustain and show cultural changes, and Kannada movies seem to be a couple of decades behind. (Okay… slight exaggeration).

For most people in Bangalore, knowing Kannada is an afterthought and not a requirement. The basic respect for the language and the locals is being trampled by stronger outer influences. Which makes the locals quite nervous about their cultural identity, hence antagonistic about these outside influences.

Bangaloreans, by nature, are easy going to the point of laziness.

But this unspoken and subtle threat against the identity is causing a subtle shift in the easy going nature and making way for impatience and frustration. The easygoing nature, as one person said, is often mistaken for stupidity.

Naturally, when the person who is supposed to represent you, thereby your identity, to the nation, tries to speak in an absolute foreign language, you would get booed out. It does not matter if you think that half your audience is made of “other” people. While you do have a responsibility to them, you also hold an equally important responsibility towards the identity of the state, its culture, heritage and language. You cannot completely alienate that by talking about ‘issues’ to a global audience. This is not Infosys, which is an Bangalore-borne Indian company, supported by several identities.

The sheer lack of respect for the locals has been grating for a while. The slight wrinkling of the nose when one talks about “Bangaloreans” or the locals is quite pissing off. The slight pause in conversation when I claim to be a Kannnadiga to someone who is talking about all the ‘modern’ things of clubbing, partying etc. Bangalore would not have been known as the pub city if its residents were truly orthodox. They’ve definitely grown orthodox, perhaps as a reaction to the crazy invasion of other cultures. The invasion of rudeness. The invasion of jugaad. The invasion of ‘it is okay to hit you car and then beat you up’. The invasion of people who think that the locals are slow and stupid because they were polite to you.

I’ve heard often enough that it is easier to get an auto if you speak the local language. That isn’t really true. But yes, sometimes it helps us to establish our ‘localness’ and knowledge of the place and the fact that we aren’t going to bargain for a ride. It helps us to tell the driver to put the meter on and not hop into it agreeing to whatever price is quoted and fight for it later. The autos do overcharge, but they do it because someone brought in the culture of bargaining here. Because someone discounted the price of fair and hard work. I grew up in the city where an auto driver would ferry a woman and her kids home without any extra charge or fuss because it was raining cats and dogs. I grew up in the city where people would stop and help you figure out what was wrong with your vehicle if you were stranded in the middle of the road.

I grew up in a place where the neighours would happily feed your kids if you were late from work. I don’t know when that niceness was interpreted as “stupid”.

Freedom of Speech in India

March 7, 2014

There has been much debate about the subtle curtailing of Freedom of Speech in India. There have been arrests of various reporters and cartoonists for making statements against various political leaders. People have been arrested for posting simple status messages. 

Books about Hinduism have been voluntarily withdrawn by publishers, fearing a backlash. 

The most recent case is about a bunch of Kashmiri students who were booked under sedition for cheering Pakistan during a cricket match. A match that India lost. There have been a lot of tweets against this move, calling this an act against the basic right of freedom of speech. And actually, in general circumstances, I would have been as well. I mean, it is a sport, and they were cheering for the opposing team, so what the hell.

But an India-Pakistan cricket match has never been just sport. While I might not support a sedition case, I am definitely not okay with consciousness behind this. The cricket match between India and Pakistan has always taken on momentous proportions. It is the one chance for the common man to participate in the hate game towards each other. Do we really hate each other? Would we beat up a Pakistani if we encounter him? Or call him names? Perhaps not. But a match between these two countries involves religion and a whole bunch of animosity. 

And when it involves Kashmir – a valued and disputed area, it is a potential landmine. It is no secret that the two nations have been fighting for Kashmir since Bharath was divided in Hindustan and Pakistan. India has always maintained that Kashmir belongs to us, and the people of Jammu & Kashmir are very content to be a part of us. Now, I cannot speak for those people. I’ve never even visited there and all the people I’ve met from the region are people who’ve moved away generations ago. 

So the Kashmiris face additional pressure of always showing whose side they are on – India or Pakistan. They do not have the liberty to even cheer for an opposing team (if that is Pakistan) because that we are constantly fearing that it could show the population’s inclination towards Pakistan. Everyone looks for hidden messages in every statement. Of course, the Pakistani government did not lose any time in taking advantage of the entire situation by inviting the students in study in Pakistan.

Indians have always been passionate about cricket. If you choose to support England or Australia during match against India, you will be subject to a lot of ribbing from the others. But perhaps you will not be stabbed because there are no other connotations to supporting those teams. It does not speak of a conflicting religious affiliation. It cannot be used as a political lever by the powers above. 

A Kashmiri blog said ” I wonder if a boss, who is a Manchester United fan, will fire a Liverpool fan who is his employee just because MU lost the game against Liverpool. This is hilariously absurd.”

It would be absurd, if one did not take into account the other sentiments behind India and Pakistan. If you were living in England, your boss might not fire you but he would definitely make your life a little harder for a while. When Australia lost to Italy in the Football World Cup a few years ago, the Italians walked around proudly, but very cautiously. They did not want to particularly tell anyone they were Italian till the Australians regained their good-humored sporting nature. 

I wonder if the author of the blog has ever been to a pub in Europe when a football match is on. The scene can get quite crazy. Rivarly between sporting teams has always been around, and all politics and religion into that and it is a definite receipe for disaster.

But the blog very clearly lists why this match and the following reactions are so important. Supporting Pakistan has always been Kashmir’s way of showing rebellion against India. True, they would rather not be a part of either nation and would exist as an independent little country. But what do they really want? If the elections of 2008 were any indication, they would rather be a part of India.

If the riots of 2010 were any indication, they would rather be independent. I really have no authority to comment on this subject. Kashmiri Pandits I’ve met mourn the loss of their state and talk about childhood days in Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims I’ve met talk about the harassment by armed forces. But both have a common sentiment – the destruction of this land over territorial fights.

Freedom, Religion & Literature in India

February 24, 2014

The past few weeks have seen a quiet storm build up. In the eye of the storm is Penguin India and Wendy Doniger’s “Hinduism: An Alternative History” and a bunch of offended religious sentiment people.

Penguin India announced a couple of weeks ago that they would be withdrawing and pulping (an innocent term for destroying) all copies of the book. There was no court order banning the book but there was a case filed against it in 2010 by Shiksha Bachao Andolan.

I had not heard about the book and perhaps would have continued in ignorance if not for this announcement by the publisher. 

The argument of the petitioner was the book hurt religious sentiments, had wrong facts and thereby would case “fear and alarm among that their religion and religious beliefs are not safe any more and can be trampled with and denigrated, distorted & insulted and hence  you have intended to induce and incite them to commit offences against the State and against Public Tranquility.”

This is not the first time a book has been banned due to these reasons. But there always was a court order behind such bans and withdrawals. I am looking for Penguin’s reasoning behind the withdrawal but can’t seem to find any. But there definitely is not a court order behind this move. 

The lack of clear reasoning makes this act more scary than a court order. The move seems to be another in a growing list of things that are going against the Freedom of Speech and Expression in India. From being arrested for innocent tweets and Facebook status messages to creating cartoons on figureheads, the mantra of intolerance seems to be on the rise in India.

What seemed to be funny articles have suddenly acquired a darker meaning. Kochi – the state that was all about the proletariat suddenly announced they were seizing all t-shirts and other things with Bob Marley’s photographs on them. Why? Because Bob Marley apparently promotes weed.

Goa – the party destination of India and Gokarna, the alternate refuge for hippies, have more complaints about police raids and harassment. Cops claim that this is done to ensure the safety of the tourists, given the rise in number of rapes and murders. Hashish / Charas / Ganja – the drug of our gods have suddenly taken a more sinister meaning.

Is there a reason behind this intolerance in the country? Is the story of Wendy Doniger and Penguin just a wake up call that most of us will not heed?

**

In researching the story about Doniger and Penguin, I visited the website of the petitioner - Shiksha Bachao Andolan. 

Their description was as follows (though in Hindi) - Important role of education in national reconstruction is the goal . The overall development of the personality of the nation’s citizenry is the key role of education in any country . Education structure , curriculum – curriculum qualitatively , access and conform to the culture of the country , there has been public discussion on issues of education . Despite being the largest component of student academic world on various aspects of education debate has been kept away from him . Education for the nation re-building seminar on the role of students in an innovative effort being through education, culture, regeneration trust . This seminar is for pupils and students for students .

I came across another article on NDTV at the same time, which talked about factual errors in government-prescribed textbooks of school children. You can read the story here.

Impressionable children are being allowed to read wrong facts about Indian history. Facts and figures. Straight forward dates. And there are organizations which are worried about adults reading an interpretation of myth, religion and religious texts. Interpretations and analysis from which they are allowed to draw their own conclusion. 

I wonder if Wendy Doniger had  been an Indian, would there have been a similar riot? Foreigners are increasingly  been given the stink eye in India. Ask any foreign correspondent who has been working in Delhi in the past couple of years. 

Paranoia or truth?

February 24, 2014

You wake up to the smell of summer in the air. But instead of that warm glow it used to bring, now it reminds you of those carefree days of summer. That hint of summer in the air meant the end of exams or almost and two whole months of absolute freedom ahead.

You wonder when life began to get so complicated, when your dreams got so big that you’d wonder if you can achieve them or not. You pick up your cellphone, loaded with notifications and instead of the glee, you think of an article which said you should not look at your cellphone the first thing in the morning.

Little pings of the cellphones mean more work stuff rather than friends with something silly. In fact, something silly begins to annoy you because that means the extra effort of opening the phone again and wasting precious time. 

You start the morning with a smoke and a bowl of fruit, as your concession to health. 

You pause midway, looking at the fork in one hand and the phone in the other with the latest news and you wonder – when the hell did I grow so old!

Frenemies

February 10, 2014
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I first heard “Frenemies” on an episode of Sex and The City. It seemed silly and harmless, and considering the theme of the series, it wasn’t something that I thought about till very recently.

Frenemies is apparently a term coined by an author in the 70s and apparently refers to a friend who can also be a rival, or an enemy who pretends to be a friend. Considering today’s world, I find it hard to believe that it was coined in the 70s, which in mind my is all about the flower power age. 

But that is the word that keeps playing in my head. It has been known for a while that we live in the world of super competitiveness. It is no longer just a rat race. It is a race of rats on steroids, coke and whatever else that pumps them up. So you keep running as fast as you can, without knowing where you are headed till your heart gives out.

The few pit stops we have in this world are friends. The evenings of cold beer, meaningless talk, venting about annoying clients is often what turns horrid situations into funny incidents and keep you going. And then one day you take that pitstop and realise that it has turned into a competing arena and people who weren’t even supposed to be competing in this space have joined in – for the sake of mere fun. 

Frenemies.

It seems like such a simple, silly word. 

It doesn’t really quite capture the desire to punch someone’s face, the urge to scream and shout or pull at your hair in sheer frustration of being backstabbed. It doesn’t quite have the emotional depth of what really occurs when you face a frenemy. 

The idea of jealously guarding your ideas, your inspirations is just so tedious. Sometimes, exhausting. An idea grows by being shared. Inspirations are often derived from simple conversations. Of course, in this world of property registrations, intellectual property rights, creative common copyrights, patents on ideas and concepts – everything is up for sale. 

Someone recently started a project on Facebook, very similar to one I’ve been doing for a while. They gave it the same title and of course, we both had the same inspirations. I wrote to them, pointing out that I was already doing this project for the past 3 years and shared links to show the same. I offered to collaborate with them or share their photographs on my page. The person started off annoyed at the intrusion, but realised that I had a valid claim (or as valid as it can be) to the project. They apologized, offered to change the name of their project and ended their conversation with “I hope you will not sue me”.

The thought of suing them over this never even occurred to me. It is a photography project. A fun project. On Facebook. The idea is not even mine originally. It is a global project that was inspired by a man in New York. Yet, ideas are dough of the day and you can sue someone for all kinds of infringement. 

Of course ideas are the dough of the day. “Consultants” for brands and whatever else make more money for tossing out ideas than people who work towards making the ideas happen. It the world where people who cannot write a line of lyrics to save their life insure their voices. The people who have the gift to write beautiful poetry give away those lines without credit for bags full of money.

I believed once that as you grow older and more confident in your field, you would willingly share ideas and have active discussions about them leading to more ideas. I did not realise that I would have to hoard them and evaluate friends if they were friends, enemies or worse, frenemies before talking about it. 

Of course, there are always better ideas and better inspirations. A true artist never stops because someone stole an idea. But in an expensive world and an empty bank account, it sure as hell burns to see an idea stolen. 

Then again, we go to Facebook to vent, share, discuss these things – an idea that was stolen from two other men and created into something else by someone who had part of the skill but perhaps not the ability to bring up the original idea. 

The idea men remain a footnote in a book, a credit in a movie while the others drive away laughing in a cool Bentley.

Frenemies.

The Indian Definition of “Us” and “Our”

January 26, 2014

2013-14 has been a momentous year in Indian politics. Perhaps I have grown old enough to appreciate the nuances of politics, or the situation has gotten more interesting. We have had new faces come to the forefront, after decades of jaded, stern old men. 

Rahul Gandhi on one side – the favorite icon of cartoonists. His comments gave cartoonists and columnists months worth of fun material. 

Narendra Modi on the other hand – the controversial, progressive leader. He at least had some achievements to his name, albeit on the dicier side of how much was true. 

But for those who did not find either of these options acceptable, it was a tough path. 

And so came AAP – the aam aadmi party. The mango people party. The everyday man’s party. And hopes were rekindled. But in the short few months the party has been in power in Delhi, cartoonists have found a new love. 

But this post isn’t about AAP or any of these political parties in general. 

It is something that I just caught onto… the use of the word “Us” and “Our”. 

While one would believe that these words in a secular country like India would be all encompassing, they truly are not. They mean different things when speaking to different sections of the voters. 

For example, AAP’s reiterated stand they wanted to protect ‘hamari aurat’ and ‘aam aurat’. These statements were made after heinous violations of the rights of some African women, who unfortunately do not see any sign of justice currently. AAP went on to release the names and addresses of these women, who were accused of prostitution. Never mind that there is not a shred of proof of prostitution or drugs. 

Reading through tons of speeches made by people after this incident, I wondered if it was only me who was noticing the distinct ‘hamara’. 

While we claim to be a diverse nation and even celebrate the same, we are expected to be monotonous. Indians, by large, are expected to be Hindus, non-meat eating, non-drinking, traditional, temple-going crowd of people. 

Even as we claim that the discrimination against Dalits is a thing of the past, when I read through these speeches, I wonder if that is really true. Conversations of with some people in the past have left me wondering about their definition of Hindus. There have been people who have stated that Hindus are the “non-meat eating, thread-wearing section of people who actually are not even supposed to drink beer”. This was said with a beer in hand. And it restricted Hindus to the Bramhin and perhaps the Vaishya sect of the population. They would include the Kshatriyas but the Shudras were no where in this equation. 

I’m not going to talk about how these castes came along (we have a beautiful article on Wikipedia for that). But the mass definition of Indians refuses to consider even basic food preferences and restrict it to the smallest section of the population.

Likewise, AAP’s definition of our ‘hamari aurat’ coolly ignores the working woman, women from other cultures who have settled here for generations and are as Indian as you and me. The Chinese-Delhi woman, the African-Gujarati women. Yes, these people do exist and they worship the same gods that we do, if that is a point of contention. But in the worst case of racism seen in a while, all these people become outsiders with one stroke and hence, evil. 

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