Category Archives: The coin

Ah, this terrible eviction of the elite….

What’s happening? People are occupying residences in Delhi’s posh locations even though they are no longer entitled to. This is (what someone else calls) “The Lutyens’ Crisis” in Delhi, India.

Who are these occupants? Former ministers, ex-Members of Parliament, bureaucrats and officials who served under governments, artistes, sportspersons, journalists, totaling about 800 persons who have overstayed their allotted time, some by decades. “The practice of allotting houses to non governmental persons started during the reign of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but the maximum allotments has happened during the tenures of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. While the Culture Ministry recommended names of eligible accredited journalists, Sports Ministry of eminent sportsmen and Home Ministry decided on those under threat from terrorist groups.” [says Manorama Online]

What are they saying? That these are all mala fide intentions of the ruling establishment against the opposition at this time.

Those who grew up in India before this century know of this culture of elite ‘squatters.’ Those who knew someone who worked for a central or state government knew it even better; if you were not at the ministerial or portfolio level, you had to leave when your time at a government flat was up, or you had to pay market rent (which took most of the paycheck under the payscale at the time).

Somehow, this mentality of rewarding a Darwinian ascent to a top job with material benefits for life to the individual and his/her extended family became so commonplace that no one questioned it, and indeed most even aspired to it. If you got those jobs, you were set for life.

Then as now, when people make the A-list of achievement, material honors accompany awards. This is known, accepted, aspired to.

But two complaints intertwine here:

1.That bureaucrats and their dependents should think of and claim state subsidized housing as a reward for their ‘seat’ in office well beyond their time in office.

  1. That stars in the worlds of culture and sports should think that they, too, deserve a ‘show’ of respect from the government in the form of material rewards throughout their lifetime.

And I want to connect point # 2 to the ‘Award Wapsi’ torrent in India, supposedly performed as a show of no-confidence in the current Prime Minister of India and his supporters, and also to the points made by a few film actors that they would not return their national awards because they felt they had been honored by the people and not by a particular government. I had praised the latter position without understanding the former (those who returned their awards but not the cash or the material rewards that had accompanied the awards). Now, I think I understand the mentality: high-achievers in media and culture and communication industries, if groomed to think their efforts would be rewarded materially by the central government, would naturally look upon those awards as a badge of recognition by a government, no matter if the institution giving them the awards was a government body or not. And they would expect each successive government to continue to honor them as they think they should be treasured. Trouble is, this sort of award-reward relationship is one imagined between the artiste and the government as a political body, not between the artiste and the people who choose to honor the artiste. Further trouble: the attitude of entitlement on the part of certain artistes, as if awards and honors are due payments, not gifts and symbolic means of respect. The artistes who returned the awards perhaps forgot that the awards are understood to be a sign of popular recognition, no matter if the actual people voting for the awardees were a select and elite in-group. Only those who think that the awards are signs of favor from a ruling government (as if the artistes were durbaaris at court) would show their pique by returning them. If they had meant to act against the intolerance they detect in the nation, they would have gone on public media to engage with the people at large in public debate. It is only when the idea of the nation in the minds of the elites becomes so circumscribed that it cannot extend beyond what exists within the award-giving, the award-receiving, and the award-influencing crowd that such a gesture of ‘return’ can be described as a gesture of protest against intolerance instead of an un-artistic gesture of no-confidence in a political party they may or may not like.

It is mind-boggling to find that respected and socially innovative achievers find it ethical and moral to break the rules that apply to all junior government servants. Why do those who are the nation’s most honored feel the nation owes them so disproportionately much for their hard work? Did they work only for the nation? Not really, most of them reject nationalism of all stripes. Did they never make any money from their achievements? Rhetorical question.

In anger the common citizen might well ask: What have you really given back? Returned awards do not equal service. Or do you not believe that others are owed, too? Are the nation’s coffers your personal allotment?

And I will ask: Why do some enormously talented, educated and intelligent people behave as if all that they feel is owed to them must be translated into material benefits? Is honor not enough?

The ‘mentality that ‘the nation owes me’ must go.


Rallying Cries and Oppositional Politics

This BBC article points to corruption as the menace of the Third World. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-29040793. Factually accurate, but interesting claim nonetheless, when one considers that neocolonialism provides the means necessary for much of that corruption to be sustained, and colonialism may be accused of creating much of the need that fuels the grabbing and the ‘Third World” itself in the last several centuries.

[Naturally, I am reading this accusation leveled at developing nations that they cannot manage themselves (tsk, when will they grow up, the world cannot deal with another burden) incredulously. And, for the purposes of this limited point, I am going with E. San Juan Jr when I accept neocolonialism as ‘a political regime and behavioral pattern of continued dominance of nominally independent nation-states through transnational disguises’; as ‘the domination of peoples and societies by capital through the liberal market and other ideological means, not through direct political rule’; as ‘the practice of exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world’s laboring masses under the guise of democratic access to markets, the free flow of commodities, technology, bodies and ideas’; as a general term for concrete empirical situations where ‘the ascendancy of corporate transnational capital generates effects of misery, violations of human rights, rape, malnutrition, genocide.’ ]

One wonders what would replace the functions currently served by corrupt regimes and systems in the developing world for transnational capital.

What will replace them, and what systems of ostensibly cleaner or more honorable functioning (which might be more protective, nationalist and resistant to transnational capital) would be acceptable to the neoliberal system? The answer depends on what role these developing countries play in the global cartography of capitalist empire: will they be ‘subaltern’ hinterlands and markets to metropolitan centers of empires, as they were in the 19th C? Will those metropolitan centers be the same as those 200 years ago, or will there be new power centers, dictated by resource-richness and geopolitical value? Or will there eventually be vast clusters of semi-urban areas, populated by groups that will trade with or prey upon other such areas, ecosystems of crime and trade and unbalanced labor?

The point of this extended diversion is simply to underscore that news such as this cannot be made a rallying cry without looking at what came before and planning for what could come after.

It is easier to create anarchy and topple a throne than it is to replace the offending regime with a stable and halfway benign system accepted by all. But to people desperate for change, or blame, short-term oppositional politics will come easier.


Lines

Experience is a fault between people. You cannot speak of things, you must see them, feel them flapping around your ankles, like mud and refuse on your hem before you are changed by them. The same thing touches one and brushes past another and suddenly the limits of our beings are reached. There will be no breaching, no new entrance into new knowledge together, no paucity of doubt and difference now.

How does one mourn something one never had? ‘Everything’ is beyond reach. More than this pouch of skin can carry. But we are used to coin — that measurement of time and material and life and human things in small holdable bits — so we make ourselves the things we can count everything with.

We say: ‘Everything’ is here, in the maps of the stars, in the seas that pull up in tides, in the astrologies of our hopes, the transit of the cosmos measured in the hourglass of a human life. We pretend it is here, and give each other everything in consolation.

 

_____________

Ref: From Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity:

“let them accord value to one another in love and friendship, and the objects, the events, and the men immediately have this value; they have it absolutely. It is possible that a man may refuse to love anything on earth; he will prove this refusal and he will carry it out by suicide. If he lives, the reason is that, whatever he may say, there still remains in him some attachment to existence; his life will be commensurate with this attachment; it will justify itself to the extent that it genuinely justifies the world.”


Stone, Paper, Scissors

An author and translator asked his audience: “If you had the option of getting your favourite new novel free as an e-book, but had to pay Rs 300 for the paper version, which of the two would you choose?”

His audience answered with either or both. None answered for neither, so I thought I would.

Ideally, I would try to think not only as a consumer, and would wait for second-hand and hand-me downs in both versions, after enquiring if the author is appropriately supported. After the aesthetic and human questions, there arises a matter of (forsworn) ethics, no? Real costs (to “this earth of mankind”) of production and consumption now in both media. Not morality, I insist, just indebtedness of creator and audience to the network of relationships in which they are ensconced/embedded/trapped and on which they depend visibly or invisibly.

There are real, perceptible and cascading effects of everything we do, and — this is perhaps more difficult to remember — of everything we do not do. Every book I buy used, every clean bit of paper I do not reuse, every item I do not try to recycle (no matter how short a distance the recycling chain goes before it becomes cargo on a trash ship changing flags before it dumps itself on a rotting port in a ‘third world’ country too poor to refuse the money in exchange for allowing the ‘first’ to treat it like a loo) , every bit of fancy and needless clothing, every bit of gold and diamond jewelry I ‘celebrate’ with — all of this came at cost, sweat, blood, tears, labor, hunger, poverty and depravity and perhaps even death.

When we think of ‘investing’ in new property or a car or whatever catches our hedonistic new fancy, do we think of the sun-blackened young laborer exhaustedly asleep on the ton of bricks that open lorry is carrying in the midday tropical sun? Really, you do? In my mind, the cost of the marble flags in my parents’ floor is calculated in the pressure on that coiled extra lungi that laborer used to haul it up those newly laid stairs, the grunts and groans of men hungry and sturdy, shouting and shouted at. Or perhaps in the number of ‘bidis’ and joints he could have bought if he stole a slab of marble and sold it on the street.

Perhaps a perverse calculation, but hardly less accurate than any other. After all, what is the exchange value of a thing?


To have and have not

One tends to transfer dreams from one person, place or time to another. Carries them out into the spring sun at every opportunity, forgetting the function of relics. Quite different from keeping a dream in the pocket; that’s life insurance. The thing is to use the currency and still keep the wealth. Dream, the currency, the ticking meter.

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