Batshorik Kaaj: Farewell to a Father from a Daughter

All is changed, changed utterly, and yet there is the mango tree laden with fruit and birds, there the gulmohor tree wrapt in fire and furry squirrel, here and there the markers of my childhood and youth, and just here the pillars of my mother’s world (shongshaar). I am here in Calcutta to usher you into the realm of the gods, father, so they say, for you have spent a year beyond us already, but you seem to have left these messages behind. And all day, all day, the trills and tunes of the hidden koel bring back my childhood before it is chased out of the mango tree by the crows.

An Abrahamic barter of memes

Being Hindu and Indian is too often conflated with being pro-Trump, anti-Muslim and far-right. This byte (link) below is hardly news to me, or will be to you, dear reader. I have had several instances of being TOLD that “all Indians support Trump.” I was never asked if I really did, but had to make clear I was not a citizen and could not vote. I surmise I am not an isolated case.
This sort of ‘search and destroy’ tactic reminds me a bit of being told in graduate school by brown, black and white-skinned academics alike that if I didn’t study Kant or Hegel or knew how to read French and German, OR could claim to be a minority specialist as a ‘native informant,’ I didn’t know anything.
That is, your understanding of the world and the world’s achievements must be cast in the accepted mode of moral politics in academia (which asks that if you cannot show your credentials as a liberated minority member, you must accept your stained status as guilty oppressor, then redeem yourself, and finally stay in submission to the reversal of the power structure).
Why are the two types of ‘attack’ similar? 
Because many of the assumptions about Hindus prevalent among those academics who are driving political protest across the world now, in tech-savvy language and mode too similar to discount, are driven by one of the laws of the left that say ‘majority bad, minority good.’
This is a deliberate teaching mode that turns the public into righteous soldiers of the new revolution, and maintains the status quo of academic power in relation to policy, media and influence on local politics. It sacrifices with glee the adherence to truth-seeking (not outing), ethics (not revenge) and the opening of young minds (not coercing them into power-savvy support) that one might have once associated with intellectual enquiry and the idea of a university.
To me, to sit quietly in the face of such carelessly mean questioning is like taking an oath of allegiance to a totalitarian ideology. A religion by another name. I prefer my independence. For expressing which position (independent) I have paid the price in academia and society.
What is worrying to me now is the willing participation of many who capitalize on their ‘Indian’ origin to happily conflate inherited, Occidental (largely Anglophone) lenses on ‘Hinduism’ and ‘India’ with all that is ‘bad’ in politics, and literally write and author a peer-reviewed revisionist history of the subcontinent into policy, for the sake of acceptance into the halls of fame and power.
Do what you want, and ‘problematize’ as many revolts and resistances into news as you desire, but don’t pretend this is about making the world a better or more diverse place.

No place for the unarmed

We have come to a point where the accident of our birth is become a sign of virtue/merit or sin/shame. It seems to me to be a rolling back of everything the 20th century fought for – that it was possible to overcome the drawbacks of our birth if we so wished. Everything was supposed to be about free will, choice, freedom, rewards for effort and the virtue of self-education. It has now become about being the ‘right’ type, learning to think in the right apocalyptic way, and to learn the right forms of political interaction and groupthink.

So folks are now going to justify bullying, shaming and silencing by saying that people ‘like’ you (with markers of nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion) have been known to do this and this so you are at fault, no matter what you have done as an individual. You deserve it. History puts you at fault, and someone else writes history now. Your turn to be oppressed. We must first reverse the balance of power before we’ll talk about equal and uniform rights for all. And we are exceptional; and while some of us may be at fault, you cannot accuse people ‘like’ me. Take it. Apologize now, and always.

I find this strange, no matter which side it comes from.

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.