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.

Giving

I met a man who felt he had not given because he had not lost.

I could not give him any reply. How do you rebut plenty?

 

Service. Loss. Excess. ‘Arpan.’ The sap rising. Is life, is death, is change, is tribute. We worship the deity that gives, the hero, the mother, the service-provider. We honor the outpouring. Overflowing. Life. And we do not count the wellspring that we cannot see. The arterial pulse, the energy of work and building and healing. But it is there, a live leaping wire, aching to connect and give. Plenty. The indomitable urge to Life.

Changing the World

When we say we wish to change the world we merely mean that we want to fix it in a form of our own making. For the world is always changing, and we enthrone shadows in the end.

All our battles of work and love come to mean the preservation of what we wish the world to be. We suspend it between this or that heaven or hell and try to chastise it into being.

When it is not to our liking, we punish it, or ourselves. We die when we punish what we love in the name of something else we would love. Utopias (nowheres) are by their definition the projections of our desires.

Silt

She noticed the fine triangular fissures of her hands, and thought of floors and pans and doors. Of all the years, and cried a little for the girl she had been long ago in a sunny land, sitting by her desk and bed looking transfixed at the translucence of her blood and skin in the strong light. The wonder of that same hand. The form had taken shape now, the lines of life written, self-made, choices coarsened, and many doors had closed. Youth in its exuberance had taken flight and this remained. The clay after the river had receded, this mortal wrapping, the life and debris of the river, the mud of idols, a corpse or two. The ghats of a few lives. And so recollecting, she sent the remainder down the same river of lines. If it got away it would live. As hopes and floating lamps and idols and bodies did before their journey immersed them whole.

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 my reader, my enemy, my sibling friend: Uncut

I

You measure my weight in terms of clarity, so that you may set me in contexts you deem appropriate. You come expecting a limpid bit of prose to give you access to meaning, perhaps even me. Have you broken these words open yet?

II

Every thing takes on the characteristics of its making. The impressions of materials, moments, masters.

We are what we have been. In this sense at least, our position is not Janus-like between past and future, but human, facing all the past we reconstruct and the future we spy over the shoulder of God.

There is nothing ‘new’ nor ‘pure,’ only that which we think has not been touched yet in this world, that which we hold aloft above this ship of fools.

III

‘There is no death. There is only, I am dying.

There is no finality in experience. There is only the frozen urn, beloved image, and the invisible sex of what is and what is not.

 

 

 

Typeface

The bitter pills she had swallowed flowed through her body and took the place of her cells. They showed now, bulging under the skin, prickly evidence, fruits in labor, grotesque and unfortunate. How did she think that she could salvage something of herself that was not her life?Today, bitterness flows from the side that got pierced most recently, and the other flow of love goes unseen. The birds that fly out of her mouth are tainted with the pall they see in her. They are dead because those who see them cannot see their life or their cause. And it is not in her power to make them see otherwise. All her love is for the inhuman now, the human having long disappeared to the world, Persephone to Demeter. She waits only for the transformation.