Sunday, May 14, 2017

RSS and the art of manufacturing super-babies

Is it a short baby? Is it a dark baby? No, it's an RSS super-baby!

(Published on May 13, 2017 in Business Standard)

Canadian singer is visiting India just as India is talking about babies, though not as many babies as in Justin’s superhit ‘Baby’. Nothing reflects the zeitgeist like horrible teenage pop.

I’m no baby lover. I have had none myself, despite some close shaves. I have been a useless aunt in terms of babysitting, and in all the other terms in which one can be an aunt. I can’t wait to get to life’s reproductive checkout counter and exchange my fertility for a small beard.

The reason for my sluggish maternal instinct was precisely put by American writer Jean Kerr: “Now the thing about having a baby—and I can’t be the first person to have noticed this—is that thereafter you have it.”

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate children. They’re cute as buttons, and nothing is as interesting as a child before its native genius is schooled out of it. But let’s face it: I don’t like the short, dark, dumb ones. Who does? Certainly no self-respecting Ary—I mean Ayurvedic, people. This is why I am so delighted, as a patriot, that those amongst us who are most dedicated to social work and nation-building have taken on the challenge of turning short, dark, skinny, dumb Indians into taller, fairer, better-built, smarter…Germans, I guess? Or Norwegians? No matter—they’re all Hindus anyway.

If you’re a short, dark, skinny dumbo who had a hard time finding someone to marry, you can give your children a leg up on the marriage market and in life by turning to the Garbh Vigyan Sanskar (Uterus Science Culture) project, the brainchild of the Arogya Bharati, the health wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They will help you have not just babies, but better babies. If you have already had the great misfortune of birthing a short, dark, skinny, dim replica of yourself, you will have to keep him/her—hello, we’re not barbarians—but then you can try to have a better baby, and who’s to know which one you take better care of? We’ve been doing this with boys versus girls for ages.

Members of the have, in the past, demonstrated their scientific temper by covering their cell phones in cowdung; saying that cows both inhale and exhale oxygen; and warning that girls who study past 10pm are immoral. I’m no doctor, but the science behind manufacturing super-babies sounds similar: have sex when the right planets are lined up; stop having sex after you get pregnant (according to Arogya Bharati’s Dr Ashok Kumar Varshney, a PhD in biochemistry, it’s “suicidal for the mother and the baby”); and have the pregnant mother chant shlokas and mantras. All of this apparently repairs faulty genes, making Jatin look more like Justin. Western science can engineer genes in petri dishes; India can engineer racist pride right in the womb.  

Arogya Bharati has tried to help Indians manufacture proper fair babies ever since they got the idea from Germany in the 1940s. You can’t really tell this from casting your eye over the Indian population, but these things take time. Luckily the will be around for a while.

Speaking for myself, I’m glad to be off the baby-making hook—or, as Shashi Tharoor might have said, exultant to have eternally recused myself from viviparously nurturing minuscule iterations of Homo sapiens despite my biologically enhanced capacity to perform the function of distaff ancestor.

I don’t know why people make fun of the guy. If my didn’t come with a super vocabulary, I’d want my money back.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Our guys, their gais

Waiter, there’s a cow in my everything.

(Published on April 29, 2017 in Business Standard)

If I unexpectedly had five minutes of the government’s undivided attention—thoo, thoo, thoo—I would tell it just this one thing: Guys (if you will pardon the expression), the cow thing has gotten completely out of hand.

I don’t mean out of hand as in, how people are killing other people over cows. Nobody in the government cares about that. Nor do I mean how every cow is getting an Aadhaar number, though even lots of humans don’t want one—the government thinks that’s a good use of time and money. I don’t mean how killing a cow can get you life imprisonment in various states. Those state governments like the idea. It’s not about how people are checking other people’s tiffins for beef, since nobody is more into monitoring tiffins than the government. Forget that we’re going to open a retirement home for elderly cows in every district. The government really wants to. And I certainly don’t mean how, despite all this, people in the northeast can go ahead and slaughter and eat beef to their hearts’ content—the BJP is eyeing elections there next year, so cows can take a hike, which tells you a lot about the relationship between cows and votes.

No, what I mean, guys, is that the cow thing, and by ‘thing’ I mean all the stuff mentioned above—the cow thing makes you look straight-up ridiculous.

Ignore, for a moment, the insignificant outrage of your own citizens, and look at India through the eyes of the world. The world sees a giant nation with giant potential, bedevilled by hideous poverty and suffering, in desperate need of healthcare, education, jobs, and infrastructure, looking to the government to deliver development.

And what does the world see the giant nation doing about it? Putting cows front and centre. Cows on the street, cows in the newspapers, cows in television studios, cows in election campaigns, cows in the law. Cows everywhere except on our plates.

If I were the world, I’d back away quietly, being careful not to make any sudden moves.

Not that the world is going to come out and say that. The world will rock back on its heels and stroke its chin and keep up a polite rumble about markets and investment and potential and so forth. But later, over drinks by itself, it will say: That India—interesting country, big market, but my god, talk about loony tunes.

Guys, you’re going to say, Who cares what the world thinks? We’re the best, it is our destiny to lead the world, look, everyone’s doing yoga, everything the world has was originally ours.

But let’s get real—you care deeply what the world thinks, because you have a massive insecurity problem. You suspect that maybe you aren’t the best, and you suspect people of sneering at you. Even some of your own people, who see this whole thing as cowboys versus Indians. You hate being sneered at—it makes you crazy. The crazier it makes you, the crazier you act, and then the more people sneer at you. It’s a problem.

The world will probably just hold its nose and take crazy in its stride, as it always has, dealing with all kinds of shady people as long as it can make money off them. It’s possible that you won’t care that it is holding its nose—but I doubt it.

So you might want to course correct the whole cow thing. It makes you look as if you can’t lead us, let alone the world.

That’s what I would say. But it would probably be a total waste of five minutes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A toast to freedom in the Blue Mountains

Welcome to the sanitised playpen that used to be the Republic of India

(Published on April 15, 2017 in Business Standard)

I spent this Thursday sitting on a hillside in the Nilgiri Mountains, worshipping a couple of coconuts. The Nilgiris stand like big blue teeth in the welcoming smile of the Deccan—or, as Tarun Vijay calls it, where the black people we live alongside, live. I was at a bhoomi pujan to bless new landowners and their land, throwing my godless good wishes into the mix. After two sweaty hours we buried two tiny silver snakes in the ground, and repaired to a humongous lunch—or, as Ram Vilas Paswan might put it, beyond the regulated restaurant portion.

The pundit and I had a brief chat. He seemed surprised that I wasn’t Australian, which was his first guess. 

Where is your child, madam? He asked. I don’t have a child, I said. He wiggled his eyebrows.

Your husband, madam? He asked. I’m not married, I said. No husband? he breathed.

Grey hair, no husband, no child, I confirmed. His face became very still. Then he stuck out his hand. 

Best, he said.

Best, I agreed, and we shook on it. I raised my fists and said ‘Freedom.’ 

Freedom, he nodded. Even I am not going to get married, madam. 

Best, I said.

It was so refreshing to be toasting freedom. Everywhere I look, people are obediently giving up autonomy, choice, and individual rights, without a whimper, law by law, rule by rule.

The BJP is rolling like a conquering juggernaut over India, on the promise of transformation, and living up to that promise—it is transforming hundreds of millions of fully grown, perfectly competent adult Indians, into helpless, gummy toddlers who must be soothed when they wail, fed regulated amounts of approved food on a predetermined schedule, and re-raised to achieve predetermined dreams.

Welcome to the sovereign socialist theistic majoritarian sanitised playpen that used to be the Republic of India—please deposit your brains and your gonads at the door. The BJP nanny state is relieving us of the stress of having to make our own choices and make up our own minds. If someone is upset, it will stop the whole playdate until someone says sorry. It makes everyone use our indoor voices. It wants us to progress together by finding the dumbest, most regressive toddlers, dragging everyone else down to their level, and proceeding backwards at their rate.

The nanny state is toddler-proofing the room, covering up anything complex or age-inappropriate. It censors words like ‘bra’, and ‘beef’ that allude to impure ideas, and any words with double meanings, and ‘Bombay’, and phrases that the Prime Minister has used. It decides the content and size of your tiffin. Meat is dodgy. Alcohol is bad for you. It tells you when to sit down and when to stand up, and how to love the nation.

It only allows good wholesome fun—no late nights, no premarital sex or romance, no subversive art. Fun is culturally scheduled and features bright primary colours, Bollywood tracks, and family outings for ice cream.

The nanny state will homeschool you, but only as much as you need to be a thriving toddler, including how not to question it. It will make sure it knows where you are and what you’re doing at all times, apparently for your own safety. 

Toddlers don’t need democracy; they need a firm nanny. This nanny will not hesitate to beat kids to death for disobedience. That makes all the other toddlers shut up and put their thumbs right back in their mouths. That’s how you build a strong, proud playpen.

I’m thrilled to report that around the Nilgiris, they still seem to like being adults.

Freedom. Best.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Laughter is the best resistance to political bullying

Jokes are kryptonite to authority.

(Published on April 1, 2017 in Business Standard)

Authority only really works on people who agree to consider it authoritative. Not authority like the police and the courts—obviously those guys have guns, and jails, and can physically impose their will upon you. I mean authority like the power to control people’s minds and lead them by the nose down whatever nasty little majoritarian alley they want. That kind of authority needs—nay, is absolutely at the mercy of—citizens’ individual cooperation in treating it like the big strong manly alpha dog that it wants to be. 

This is a shaky leg to stand on. And you know what sneaks up and nudges that leg in the back of the knee, making it wobble and look silly? Jokes! Jokes are kryptonite to authority. They are to pompous egos what needles are to soap bubbles. They make people laugh and point when they should be bowing and scraping. This is why politicians and godmen are such a thin-skinned, humourless lot, and make such free use of guns and jails. They hate being made fun of—it’s bad for their image as fearsome, wondrous people wielding fearsome, wondrous power over masses faint with admiration. The more they suspect people of mocking them, the more they fall back on guns and jails. This is also why their followers insist on respect for their leader, else their feelings will be hurt, and, you guessed it, we’re back to guns and jails.

In Myanmar in the late 1990s, people wouldn’t say a word about the military junta in public. But they whispered indignantly about a comedy trio, the Moustache Brothers. Two of them had been sentenced to seven years in a labour camp for an act criticising the government. Years later, in 2008, the famous Burmese satirist Zarganar was sentenced to 59 years in prison, though he was freed by amnesty in 2011. The whole editorial team of French magazine Charlie Hebdo suffered the most extreme review of their work when they were gunned down by Islamist fundamentalists who didn’t find them funny. The wildly popular Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef was arrested in 2013 for mocking President Morsi.

Closer to home, in January 2016, comedian Kiku Sharda was tossed in the clapper for a couple of weeks for mimicking Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and offending his followers’ sentiments. This month, a young man in Uttar Pradesh ended up in the clink for posting a morphed image of the new chief minister, Mr Adityanath; and another young man in Maharashtra was arrested for uploading a photo of a warrior-king with Mr Adityanath’s face stuck on it, after his friends ratted him out to a pro-Maratha reservations organisation.

In other words, politicians and god-botherers fully understand that humour is the pointiest, pokiest form of resistance. It is also, by nature, untameable. Turkish president Erdogan, who cracked down on hundreds of people who make fun of him, found this out the hard way: His crackdown only inspired even more jokesters and satirists.

For its creativity, for revealing uncomfortable truths, for its sturdy self-respect, and for its refusal of mind control, we should, this April Fool’s day, celebrate the many delicious forms of humour available to us—light comedy, wit, irony, sarcasm, satire, spoofery, parody, mockery, ridicule, and plain rudeness. 

Prime Minister Modi led by example, this January, when he called for more humour and satire in public life, saying that the power of laughter is greater than the power of weapons. He’s dead right. After I had recovered from the immense shock of finding myself in agreement with him, I actually clapped. 

Let it never be said that I have nothing nice to say about the man, okay?