Friday, 28 December 2012

Give The Dog A Bone..

Justice Markandey Katju claims that 90% of Indians are idiots. Methinks the man is being far too conservative – the figure should be closer to 99%! Let me hasten to add that I consider myself as prime among this majority, and quite revel in it!

The first sign of an idiot, as Dostoevsky says in his novel of the same name, is that he unthinkingly accepts his fate. And we Indians are the very personification of glum acceptance of the inevitability of our `kismet’. We are, what Kamala Das beguilingly called, `fatalists on stone benches’.

The mirror of any society is – or ought to be – its media. Pick up any mainstream newspaper, and what do you find? Ayaz Amir, the Pakistani columnist, was once  in New Delhi, and spent the entire morning going through every national daily from cover to cover. At the end of the exercise, he says, he was no wiser on what was happening around the world. He was, of course, fully updated on all the gossip that did the rounds of the corridors of power, and who was going around with whom in Bollywood.

The Times of India devotes over 80% of its space to advertisements, another 10 to 15% on inane gossip, and only about 5% to serious news. Full-page ads are now splashed across their front pages, I kid you not! Ravi Dugal, who has worked intimately with the Jains who own the Times Group, rightly says that news and editorial content is only meant to fill in the spaces left after the ads have been inserted!

The `Pune Times’ supplement is aptly described by my kids as a `potty paper’ – ideal reading on the pot! Check the item on the masthead - `Poonam Pandey is better than Bipasha, says Amit Saxena’! I tell you!! To make matters worse, they now have their front pages as `half pages’ (vertically sliced), which makes it extremely cumbersome to unfold while precariously balanced on the `throne’! Sid was so incensed with this inanity, he promptly dashed off an angry letter to the Editor!

As for the high decibel electronic media, they are no better than dogs with a bone. The bone of the moment is the unfortunate and tragic gang rape in Delhi. They will chew on it mercilessly till someone throws them another bone – then this story will be promptly dumped, and the other one gleefully snatched. The reporters in the field have no grace, no manners – they think nothing of shoving a mike into a traumatised victim’s face and asking him how he/she is `feeling’.

The anchors are so loud, so crass, so filled with outrage they make my stomach churn. And yet, they are the true STARS – just check the channel ads, where they preen themselves so shamelessly! So utterly full of themselves these idiots don’t allow the guests to get in a word edgewise. Rude in their interruptions, arrogant in their self belief and utterly crass in their manners. The Radia tapes exposed them so thoroughly, and yet the same faces continue to hog the airwaves, screaming and hyperventilating themselves into a state of near apoplexy!

Justice Katju is right. We are idiots, period. Maybe we deserve these nincompoops, maybe they only reflect our own inner self. Is there a glimmer of hope anywhere? I fear not…

Ek hi ullu kaafi tha, barbaad gulistan karne ko
Anjam-e-gulistan kya hoga, har shaakh pe ullu baithe hain..

Monday, 24 December 2012

Tell me, Oh Khuda...

When the CMP (Corps of Military Police) Centre & School was shifted from the sleepy hamlet of Faizabad in UP to the bustling metropolis of Bangalore in the late seventies, there were naturally whoops of joy all around.  This was not, however, without a twinge of regret. The grand and opulent Centre Mandir, which had acquired the status of a local landmark of sorts in Faizabad and nearby Ayodhya, would have to be left behind. But Bangalore was Bangalore – the fastest growing city in the subcontinent – and arguably the best city in the country (after my Poona, of course), so this seemed a small price to pay – if at all.

The Centre Commandant was a true Infantry soldier, complete with handle bar moustache and an IQ that struggled to reach double figures. One of his quirks (and there were quite a few, believe me – he believed he could cure any ailment by running a magnetic device over the patient’s photograph – even if the patient happened to be a continent away!) was his longing for the old mandir. He was convinced that by abandoning it for the city lights of Bangalore, the Centre had incurred the wrath of the Gods! So he decided to re-build an equally grand temple at Bangalore.

Idols in pristine marble were ordered from his home state of Rajasthan. These landed up at Bangalore about a few weeks before the structure was completed, so they had be stored somewhere till their `grand home’ was ready. A derelict barrack close by was being used for dumping all the construction material, as well as some of the debris from the structure. It was convenient, so room in this barrack was duly made for the idols. For a while, they stood patiently among sacks of cement, iron rods and wooden planks, while awaiting their move to more grand circumstances.

All this while, the `working parties’ trooped in and out of the barrack, in size-16 ammunition boots, sometimes carrying stuff away, sometimes dumping debris, always raising plumes of dust. The idols bore all this movement, noise and dust with the stoic sangfroid that Hindu Gods are so well known for.

When the D-Day arrived, the idols were duly dusted, even washed, and carried ceremoniously to their respective `thrones’.  A spiritual `baba’ of sorts was summoned to carry out the installation ceremony – the `sthapna’.  The patience of the idols had been duly rewarded, and lo and behold – they who had only heard the stomping of ammunition boots till a few hours ago, now couldn’t be approached unless one removed all forms of footwear first. They who had smiled upon unruly soldiers swapping risqué one liners, now had the same soldiers reciting the gayatri mantra. All in a matter of a few hours!

At what precise moment had the idols become divine, I wondered. What had changed so suddenly? The `sthapna' ceremony? A few Sanskrit shlokas recited as desi ghee was poured over a hawan fire? Faith is truly a strange thing. I shook my head ruefully.

An aside here. I commanded a Signal Regiment in hard field in Nagaland. My Corps Commander was the redoubtable General Nanavatty, who like all Parsis was an absolute gem. As I took him around my unit, he was awe struck on seeing my OR Messes (lungars). I had set up bars in each of them, which functioned exactly like the Officers’ Mess bars – liquor was served every day, and the God-awful `Rum Issue Days’ had been junked. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that this had, in fact, reduced the overall consumption of liquor in the unit! However, on seeing the ramshackle state of my Unit Mandir, he asked why I had not lavished as much attention to that barrack. “Sir”, I told him, “if someone really wants to pray, he can do so even while sitting under a tree! Let me focus on the material rather than the spiritual needs of my men first!” Only his stiff-upper-lip upbringing prevented him from actually hugging me!

Today, people are killed for allegedly desecrating books. Symbols have become more valuable than human life. And the Gods continue to maintain their sangfroid. As a peasant remarked to Maxim Gorky "Man has learnt to swim like a fish, to fly like a bird - but when will he learn to walk on earth like a man??"