Sunday, October 18, 2015

Provoking My Pen




I rushed to the playground with first-aid. My eight year old son’s friend had hit him with a cricket bat. Fearing an altercation, the friend’s father also reached the ground. He began telling me how my son had started the fight. I’m sure there was provocation, for no sane boy will bash his friend with a bat. But in that moment, I wondered if any provocation could justify the act. In that moment, I wanted the father to say, “I’m sorry this happened. We’ll talk about it later. How can I help you right now?” Fortunately, the bruise healed and boys were back to playing cricket the following day.

On a larger landscape where politicians fish in troubled waters, where mistrust runs deep and where it is easy to get provoked, I find it difficult to provoke my pen. What does one write when we have become humorless, hypersensitive, self righteous, identity driven prudes? Intolerant fumes are emanating from social media where having an alternate opinion makes your friend an adversary. What does one write when we risk being called a ModiToadie, Congilicker or a Bhakt?

While elements from within NDA revealed an unsavory face by making unacceptable comments, decades of patronage by one party ensured that the pen and the microphone are used to add fuel to fire.But let’s sideline politics, because when we blame others without accepting our own mistakes we continue to make the same mistakes.
An entire nation’s insensitivity can be explained by misplaced focus on pervasive negativity. More than sane voices, rabble-rousers spend time in our living rooms via television. Our brains are, perhaps, wired in a way that the ink smeared face of intolerance makes for a riveting story compared to a staid story of Indians raising funds for a Pak teen battling a rare disease.
The primary issue is often not the choice of food, movie, music concert, or book launch. For one, tolerance today is akin to weakness. With belligerent voices muzzling the moderates, it’s my way or the highway. Then, most of us have opinions that can’t be questioned. 
I’m a Modi supporter and his supporters can do no wrong. Wrong. I’m a Shiv Sainik and my party men can do no wrong. Wrong. 
I hate Modi and everything Modi does is wrong. Wrong.
Too much activism? Perhaps. Looks like, the argumentative Indian is now an opinionated Indian, unaccustomed to the discipline of reasoned disagreement. In a hurry to dispense opinions, we become pawns of a dirty political game. Worse, opinions on both sides of the fence face attack with Anupam Kher being called a Bhakt and Naseeruddin Shah called anti-national. Ironical, that a dialogue from Anupam and Nasser's movie, A Wednesday, 'Hum naam mein mazhab dhoodh lete hain,' imitates life like never before.

A year ago, I was overjoyed when Article 66A of the IT Act was scraped, but today when videos loaded with cow carcasses and communal undertones are being forwarded to provoke frustrated jobless men, I’m not sure if we understand the responsibility that comes with freedom of expression. A mischief monger who enters a packed cinema hall and shouts 'fire' is an undeserving beneficiary of freedom of expression.Thriving in the cacophony of freedom of expression, the inherent desire to validate ideology without ceding an inch is the bane of our social existence. The intellectuals, writers and journalists have joined the bandwagon too. Every week a controversy washes up our shores, displaying an unfortunate subtext of intellectuals falling for the identity driven ego bait. 
Then, there is politics of revenge.You call me Khaki Chaddi, I call you Bootlicker. With most of us in perpetual victim-hood mode, hanging our identities of a Hindu Soldier, Muslim Savior, Bihari DNA, Maharastrian Pride and AAP Follower as a proud placard, it’s easy for leaders to whip passions among cadres. Political parties have milked the insecurities of vote banks who have fallen into the trap of blaming the other community for their problems. It all boils down to economics. Unless Modi addresses the problem of unemployment, politically motivated mob activism is likely to rise says Amulya Gopalakrishnan. Having lost jobs owing to the agrarian crisis, frustrated with political appeasement and reservation, many have fallen back on unwarranted politico-religious machismo.

Finally, we have the malaise of Whataboutism. When we justify a wrong, we end up becoming mirror images of each other. This is not to say that any provocation should be disregarded because simmering resentment is likely to explode prior to every state election.
But regardless of the provocation, you don’t hit a friend because he provoked you. So what do you do? Leave the ground and look like a loser? Try to talk when no one is willing to listen? I don’t know. What I know is that provocation should not be an excuse for violence. Whether it is Dadri, Moodbidri, Paris, Mumbai or a playground, only violent people are provoked into violence. Every violent act must be condemned. Without any 'but'. 


55 comments:

  1. I have realized that the reason we will go nowhere as a race is become we are extremely petty. We will just remain a cacophonous land of mediocre talent and massive egos.

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    1. *become = because

      And, thank you, Alka, for writing this rational essay on such a rabid issue.

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    2. Thank you for reading Rickie.

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  2. I have nothing to say. I am really disillusioned. To safeguard my sanity I stay away from social media,,have

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    1. My comment had got clipped off when I was typing from cellphone. Basically, what I have come to realize is that every person has some very fixated views when it comes to religion and politics even the ones we think of as balanced. And, in the effort to validate our views, believing that they are rational and balanced of course, we keep harping on and on till all I see on social media are digs, rants and heated points of view. The irony of it all is that we all all become intolerant. Perhaps our bullshit meter is low now but it is a really distressing trend. One that I don't want to be a part of. Hence complete abstaining from writing about, sharing or talking about opinions left or right.

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    2. I've decided to restrain myself too. No point arguing on FB, it is not the perfect platform for such discussions anyway.

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  3. I feel that violence is no answer to disagreement and what matters is communications. Hatred only leads to hatred, that's the sad part. People are always used by politicians to further their end.

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    1. Yes, we have become political pawns.

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    2. As you write, "only violent people are provoked into violence", similarly, only those willing to become pawns can become pawns.

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  4. Your analogy is very apt. Years ago I met with a counsellor because there was too much playground fighting and she said that 'violence is unacceptable no matter what'. That works very well in the playground and to a large extent in a multi hued country like India too. Even if no one is listening holding your ground is the best thing one can do. As for coming across as a loser - that, I think, is better than killing someone for something they may have not even done.

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  5. I don't know what to say Alka...I condemn all kinds of violence but I also try to not jump immediately into saffron vs green or bhakt vs troll debate (at times I know I fail) ...But I try to see beyond things, understand things..Sadly not everyone does that..I have every tried to write about it in my latest post...But what I see is a reaction filled with vendetta and venom...It makes me sick and sad, especially when it comes form apparently educated folks...I feel very bad and upset...Sadly, no one is willing to listen ..sigh!

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    1. I will read your piece in a bit. I always find your views very balanced.

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    2. All sane minds abhor violence but can one really "condemn all kinds of violence" Nabanita? All empires were always built on violence. Why do we say "Alexander The Great"? Or "Ashoka The Great"? "Akbar The Great"? From Roman empire, Maurya, Gupta, Pala, Sen, Byzantine, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Chola, Mughal, British, American... none would come into existence without violence and aggression - almost always unprovoked, and results of arrogant display of power, greed, expansionism and colonisation, exploitation. Is greater violence really necessary to suppress an act of violence? Why would Gandhi force India to fight FOR the Allies and the British - who were clearly not our friends? Why did Krishna ask Arjuna to kill his own brothers and relatives - no matter what the provocation? Let's ponder. And avoid oversimplifying things.

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    3. Given your extensive knowledge, would be happy to read your enlightening views on history. Do share the link when you write.
      Thank you Pallav.

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    4. Far from having extensive knowledge (no matter how the phrase is used) on any subject, my ignorance usually embarrasses me. I am just a student. I dig. I ask questions. I inquire. Etymology will endorse that to be the only way to know history.

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  6. I try not to make any man-made, mind-made value - no matter how high and idealistic and noble it may sound - into an absolute ideal for all times, all contexts. Sure ahimsa is the highest dharma but those who cite this ideal forget the second line of the same shloka from the Mahabharat. The very act of imposing one mental ideal on all humanity, without understanding the complexity of human nature, like Gandhi tried to do, is an act of violence, I think.
    अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
    धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
    (Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma.)

    Before I am misunderstood and my words are totally misinterpreted to mean something I don't intend, let me clarify that I am not advocating for violence. Who in their sane mind would? But then I am also not the one to say that non-violence alone can solve everything. It can, only if the other side, the entire humanity is living by this principle. Ahimsa parmodharma is a principle of the highest spirital plane, unless and until the entire humanity is living at that plane of consciousness. Are we going to recommend that we have no police force, no army, because we believe in ahimsa? Tibet tried, and look where it is now.

    But yes again, we need to eschew all violence in the name of selfish politics, violence in the name of greed, violence from each and every part of ourselves. But that takes years and years of spiritual sadhana, not a mentalised moral idealism which can be easily broken at the slightest provocation.

    Sorry I am going on and on....but your writeup is provoking me :) Thanks for this piece. And I apologise if I have hurt any sentiments of yours or any of your readers. I am merely speaking truth as I see it today. Tomorrow I may evolve in my thought process and change.

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    1. Thank you for your enlightening views Beloo.

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    2. That's better said Beloo Mehra, but who decides what is Dharma? One can understand Ram killing Ravan. But can you justify Ram killing Bali like a hidden assassin to serve his own selfish interest? Bali was a noble king and surely never harmed Ram in any way. Similarly, so many acts of Krishna (among other godly characters) are not beyond question.

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    3. That will be a very long discussion, Pallav Bhattacharya -- what is Dharma and then working our way through the specific instances you list. The issue however is never about questioning the actions of any of these avatars - Rama or Krishna or anyone else. The issue here is how the questioning happens. That's where our intentions and motivations for rational and reasonable inquiry are made clear - both to us as inquirers and to our audience. If we do such questioning merely to win political points (as some of our so-called "rationalist" intellectuals do by advocating people to give up murti puja and abandon this or that ritual or by making mindless movies like PK) by totally disregarding the deeper spirit of and purpose that these itihasas like Ramayana and Mahabharata are supposed to fulfill, we have totally missed the point.
      For example, we need to first discover what was the deeper purpose of these two avatars at two different points of time. We also need to ask what is the meaning of the word 'avatar' by itself, so that we can then understand why these avatars did certain things which can be questioned by ordinary human minds. We also need to understand what is the spirit in which Indian thought conceives the idea of the Divine and the Human, and the relation between the two. We also need to inquire into the different layers of human nature, particularly the levels of mind and its evolutionary progress through experience and education, before we can say anything about mind-made ideas of ethics, morality etc. When we are ready with all this knowledge and a lot more that is connected we can sincerely inquire into the kinds of questions you suggest. Before that, we will be using only our narrow mental prejudices or preferences.

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    4. One last point -
      Dharma is not a mentalised code of conduct or ethical behaviour, perfectly defined for all times to come. Dharma is flexible and changes with time and context and place. But at the same time there is a deeper essence of Dharma which is eternal, timeless, changeless. It is both, at the same time. The challenge always - for individuals and societies - is to discover that eternal Dharma by which life can be regulated (dharma by itself means that which holds, that which creates a sense of order, an ordered truth), and which simultaneously allows for free progress of individual and societies.
      If you are interested in reading more on Dharma, may I (shamelessly) invite you to my blog - http://matriwords.wordpress.com/ - where I am planning to share, maybe in a serialised form (starting in about a week's time) a longer article of mine on this very topic of Dharma.
      Thanks for reading all this (if you are reading upto this point.)
      And I hope Alka isn't too unhappy at my using her blog space to go on and on with this. I am sure she will let me know if she is upset or anything :) But I just couldn't let this question pass by! Thanks Alka.

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    5. Pallav, this post is limited to social and communal harmony between fellow citizens. When I say we should condemn violence, I refer to the rule of law. Violence in armed combat, historical and mythological characters is beyond the ambit of this post. However, given your knowledge, I would be happy to read a post on your views.
      Thank you.

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    6. Beloo, feel free. When we invite comments, all views are welcome.

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    7. What you wrote wasn't quite unknown to me, Beloo Mehra, but thank you nevertheless for putting it in a few simple words.
      And ah, I'm sure Alka would be happy to witness a commentorial exchange of views that her post initiated.
      I have bookmarked your blog and will absorb the contents as soon as I manage to.
      Personally, I have a Vedantic outlook towards religion, society, governance et al - perhaps because of my iconoclastic and anarchic nature. Not in the conventional sense of anarchy though.
      Should you be interested, you may read a lecture Swami Vivekananda delivered in San Francisco on 8 April, 1900. Perhaps you are already familiar with Vivekananda's interpretations of Vedanta. If not, it's a good place to start. It was, of course, intended for a foreign audience over a century ago.
      http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_8/lectures_and_discourses/is_vedanta_the_future.htm

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    8. Thank you Alka.

      Thanks Pallav for the link. Will surely read it. I can't say I am fully unfamiliar with the writings/teachings of Swami Vivekananda, nor can I say that I know enough about them to say or write anything substantive. What I do know is that I hold Swamiji's contribution to the Indian intellectual and spiritual renaissance in very, very high regard, along with that of Sri Ramakrishna.
      I see that you have already visited my blog and left a comment there. I am happy to have a well-read reader like yourself and I look forward to more thoughtful interactions on that space. As you are probably aware there is a deep inner connection between Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, and Sri Aurobindo has also written about it. So it was only after I turned to the Integral thought and vision of Sri Aurobindo (which is often termed as a synthesis of Vedantic and Tantric) that I got interested in exploring a bit of Swami Vivekananda's works.
      And don't worry, I understand what you mean when you use the word "anarchy" :) I am a student of Sri Auronbido who has given the vision of a spiritual anarchy :)
      Good to make your acquaintance.

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  7. Very aptly put. It is so difficult to express any opinion today. Most people seem only interested in judgements and the complexity of issues and debates are ignored.

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  8. We have stopped thinking. A bunch of talking parrots is all that we are, parroting everything that people around us parrot.

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  9. I fail to understand where our politicians want to take us.We were subjugated by countless invaders for centuries.Now,when some of them have become an integral part of our society we spew venom at them,we are not even ready to accept residents of other states-we treat them like foreigners.We rake up old beliefs the veracity of which cannot be proven.So many things have changed with time,we do not live today like our ancestors used to live in the Vedic ages.We all have our own set of values,let us live by them so far as we do not break any laws.And if we are hurt by someone' acts then there is law to take recourse to.

    Phew,this was very long,but the issue is such.

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  10. We are land of talkers. We enjoy talking, pulling down people but never stopping for once and looking inside. And with all the drama that is happening nowadays, we are stooping even lower.

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    1. Ha ha, social media is a boon for us, isn't it?

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  11. We are letting our lives to be led by politics. Defining relatonships, friendships forged by politics. Dragging in an ancient culture, misinterpreting and misrepresenting, to forcefully validate our skewed views. And we are so revelling in this slandering that we fail to note and allow the glimmers of hope to enter and brighten our world. We need to focus on the positive and underline them mre often.

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    1. Such a refreshing thought, thanks Ilakshee.

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  12. Somewhere scepticism or intolerance to any view has seeped into our system and I am anxious the skin getting thinner and thinner day by day and where will it lead us to. As usual I enjoyed and agree to every bit of your presentation.

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    1. Chaitali, always good to see you here, thank you.

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  13. Give a fool a keyboard and a few half baked ideas that suits his hate and he starts fancying himself as the greatest patriot alive. Dare disagree with him and he'll spend the next few hours discrediting you and your forefathers.

    But our silence is not doing us any good. We need to speak against these rabble rousers.

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    1. Cannot let the far right and far left muzzle reasoned moderates who have no agenda other than national interest.

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  14. Sane voices are unfortunately drowned in the cacophony of rabble rousers who stoke fire and watch the fun!. A very balanced view, Alka , but unfortunately very few ar willing to listen:(

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    1. Thanks Rahul. Sorry for your personal loss.

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  15. As Rickie says, Thank you Alka, for being the voice of reason. It is bewildering to see how intolerant we have become of the other persons views and how adamant we are in forcing our views down the throat of others.

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    1. The desire for everyone to validate their thought is inherent but we have to accept that it is perfectly healthy to have divergent views.

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  16. Provocation cannot be a justification for verbal abuse either.

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    1. Absolutely. Not many can appreciate the thought though.

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  17. I don't know what to say, really. Tolerance? I haven't heard that word in a long time...don't know what will happen to the future generations.

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    1. Was missing your presence Prudhvi, yeah, not looking good.

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  18. Very well written Alka. Loved your narrative.Tolerance - a virtue solely missing and gets trampled everywhere - TV, print, social media. People feel obliged to have an opinion and pass derogatory remarks against everybody who's different. Recently had the same very uncomfortable feeling after seeing some comments in social media almost maligning some thoughts and calling the people who held them "idiots". Considering that I ascribed to the thought in question, I felt like I had been slapped. Though i did try to read up more abt the point in question, more to understand if I had any prejudice. But it still a phenomenal waste of time and energy in quelling the negativity that came with it.

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    1. Appreciate your balanced views Asha, diverse views need to be respected. Celebrated even.

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  19. YES .. No BUT only JATT :)

    anyway jokes apart i get to see a different picture sitting far far away from the nation, we as a nation are hypocrite people to be very frank, we say things that we dont mean our politicians are the worst compared to anyone or anything... the problem is in our nations we have what is called DIRTY politics.. every democratic country has politicians who want to win but in uk I dont think we have dirty politics .. and that is a big difference.. for winning election ANYTHING can be expected from the leaders and the followers..

    I blame the followers the same because THEY perfectly know what their leader is doing and they are the people who actually give results to the schemes of their leader.. hence them to be blamed ..

    Recently in the last few days I have been hearing news on what is going on in Punjab , without going into details HOW is it possible that the GOVT. does not know who is behind this , that is a SHAM.. hence them and their followers are to be blamed for what is going on in a state that at one stage was the richest state and now is one at the bottom ..

    Totally agree with you voilence is violence no matter how it is portrayed or by who :)


    This also means that till the people of the nation STOP being followers such atrocities will keep happening ALWAYS..


    Bikram's

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    1. What happened in Punjab was really unfortunate. With elections looming large, more unrest is likely which is such a sad sad thing.

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  20. It's amazing how passionately people will defend an opinion that has no logical basis. There is nothing you can do, because the minute you bring in facts, there will be name-calling and criticism of your grammar - as if that in itself should be enough. It's the same everywhere! Maybe it's the 24/7 media that thrives on sensationalism that breeds this distrust, or maybe these people just need some way to vent their frustrations or a combo of both.

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    1. True, the ill informed voices irk the most. But everyone wants their views to be validated.
      It's a combo of many complex factors Roshni. Glad to see you here.

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