Life is not a holiday.

Bhagat and the ‘Bourgeoisie’

During the 2014 general elections, I heard a lot of people countering arguments against Narendra Modi with the claim that those criticizing him only did so because, being snooty and elitist, they were naturally terrified by the prospect of a mere tea seller getting elected to the high post of the Prime Minister of the nation.

India’s bestselling author suggested the same in a newspaper column recently. A man who believes the Twitter mafia needs to get a girlfriend in order for the social platform to become a more congenial place, who reveals his ignorance by  belittling the work of historians, also imagines that all the writers, filmmakers, scientists, and members of the general public expressing concern over the increasing intolerance in the country are only doing so because they feel their intellectual or financial position is in danger.

Chetan Bhagat has been repeatedly stating this point of late, declaring that if Modi and Amit Shah “attended Doon school, spoke impeccable English and were spotted with their English girlfriends”, no one would be pointing fingers at them. I have never been a fan of Chetan Bhagat, or his writing, and I doubt anyone, including the man himself, can explain why he imagines girlfriends will solve everything.

But for him to trivialize what his own contemporaries have been doing of late – returning awards or protesting vocally against the increase intolerance in the country- in such a blunt and unapologetic manner is a new low for him.

He accuses “liberals” of being motivated by selfish concerns, and of being elitist in their thinking and lifestyle. He holds their education against them while criticizing them for holding other people’s lack of a similar kind of education against them. He places them as a single selfish, greedy body by virtue of the class they belong to, while criticizing them for looking down upon people who do not belong to their own class.

To claim that people with money or an English medium education can have no one’s interests at heart except their own is the same as saying that everyone without money is irrelevant. There are all kinds of people in all classes, religions, nations, and societies, and to generalize so strongly is perilous, especially when a man with the kind of influence and following that Bhagat has does it.

Apart from being appalling, his claims are also untrue. The people protesting don’t necessarily come from privileged backgrounds. Several of them, in fact, have worked their way up to get to where they are today, just like Bhagat or Modi have done in their respective fields.

For example, Ajmer Singh Aulakh was born to a family of farmers, while his fellow Punjabi writer Baldev S Sadaknama worked as a taxi driver, truck cleaner, and truck operator before he began writing. To overlook the struggles and achievements of these artists, and declare that anything they may have to say is irrelevant because of the position they hold in society today is disgraceful, and ironic considering the grounds of criticism against them.

Bhagat goes on to say that these “liberals” who are protesting look down upon vernacular languages. That is a loose, uninformed claim, if not a stupid one, considering several of those protesting make a living off those very vernacular languages. The writers in question, for example, turn out work in Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi, Malyallam, and Kannada amongst other languages.

In addition, he claims that these “liberals” are only speaking out in today’s situation because Hindu fundamentalists can be blamed – “They claimed to be modern and fair, but one would rarely find them speaking out against Islamic diktats that militate against gender equality. Liberal discussions on Godhra riots never touch on how Islamic fundamentalists burnt trains with passengers inside.”- hence turning the protest against communal intolerance into a communally motivated one itself.

Chetan Bhagat accuses anyone speaking out against increasing intolerance of some of the worst ideological crimes possible in a diverse, secular country like India, and he never once actually addresses the point of intolerance himself.

Bhagat, regardless of what I think, is a well-known and much beloved writer for most of the people in this country, and he, as a writer, wields the power of the pen in a way that few people can. To criticize a manner of protest, or to deny the issue entirely is one thing, but to accuse those who are giving up much treasured possessions- awards that are a sign of success and a source of respect- of being selfish and inconsiderate, apart from labeling them as greedy and insecure, is disgraceful and, considering Bhagat’s influence, dangerous.

For Chetan Bhagat, intolerance doesn’t exist. It is just an issue that the “liberals”/elites are cooking up to protect themselves, fearing they will lose their position in society. But he is privileged – what with his money and the books he writes in English – what does he know.

The ‘Lock’ness Monster

There was once a little girl who loved locks. She would lock herself into rooms regularly, and then promptly forget how to unlock the door.

It all began when she was four, and decided to experiment with the features on the bathroom door long before her mechanical skills were done developing. She turned the door lock clockwise, and satisfied with the clicking noise and the power she clearly possessed over the door, decided it was time to turn the pawn the other way round and let herself out.

Except she couldn’t.

Either the lock was too tight, or her mechanical skills too weak, although going by her personality later in life, she was probably just too lazy to try hard enough.

For the next hour, chaos prevailed in the house as people tried to push the door down, break the lock, or guide her into unlocking the door. Her two older sisters cried and wailed outside the door, imagining growing older while their sister remained locked inside the bathroom forever, starved and alone.

Finally, using an implement from a construction site nearby, and the full strength of their bodies, a few workers and the family driver managed to break the door down.

The little girl’s sisters wiped their tears as the door opened to reveal the creator of the chaos sitting blissfully on the commode, in her bare necessities, her legs dangling a little above the floor, a victorious smile on her face.

It didn’t stop there.

A few days later, probably deciding people had forgotten the power she possessed, over the door and the atmosphere of the household, the little girl locked herself in her parents’ bedroom, and promptly erased all memory of how to unlock the door from her mind.

This time the neighbors’ had to get involved.

Using the neighbours’ balcony which shared a common wall with their own balcony adjoining the bedroom that was the centre of the little girl’s self enforced imprisonment, her father and a couple of other people helping out climbed over the waist high wall and tried to teach the girl how to open the balcony door, but in vain.

In the end, they had to carve out a hole in the screen door by means of which they could put their hand in and themselves unlock the door, once more rescuing the relatively unfazed damsel in distress.

As the little girl grew up, she developed an understanding with locks and unwanted excitement disappeared from the life of her family.

Then the locks decided to take revenge.

On the day of her ISC exam, the little girl locked herself in her sleeping sister’s room to change into her uniform, and then turned the lock to let herself out.

Except the lock kept on turning, with no effect on the status of the closed door.

For the next half hour, the little girl and her sister sat inside the room, while their parents made calls and ran helter skelter, trying to arrange for a carpenter to come and free their daughters while simultaneously throwing provisions from the other balcony so that the little girl would be ready to leave for school and give her exam when the door opened.

The door did, after endless excitement, finally open in time for the little girl to get to school well before her exam began.

But she learned a lesson that day that was more important than any lesson any school or exam could teach her.

She learned to respect locks.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gang rape case, I found two responses dominated on the part of regular citizens of the country – those who declared outrage at the state of women in Delhi and the nation at large, and those who expressed outrage at the state of women in Delhi and then declared things weren’t as bad in their own city, thank god.

The former tended to include people who went beyond thinking of themselves as third parties absolved of all responsibility for the situation and tried to do their bit – by taking part in the protests at India Gate or just making small changes in their daily lives- speaking out more, standing up for themselves or the women around them, known or unknown. The latter basically contributed nothing, because they realized they were better off than the worst, so why bother trying to be the best they could be, even if women weren’t safe, “look at Delhi, look at the gang-rape, at least that doesn’t happen here.”

But so much does.

I see the BJP as similar to the latter category in today’s scenario. It believes in responding in one of three ways to anything that leads to negative publicity – pretend it doesn’t exist; avoid responsibility by reminding people that things were much worse under other governments; declare that everyone who raises a voice against the government or the state of affairs in the nation is blinded by their hatred for Modi and makes no rational sense.

In the last month, few things in the country of any real significance have instigated a strong and unequivocal response from the Prime Minister, including the Dadri lynching. Despite the loud claims of his supporters that his ‘statement’ regarding the episode, weeks after it occurred, made his stand loud and clear, it was, I believe, equivalent to a mother telling her son who has been repeatedly beaten with a belt by his brother that “I am saddened by the violence. We must live peacefully. Now please vote for me in the Mother of the Year contest.”

The most ‘saddening’ responses in the past month, though, have been those of BJP members and supporters who have had all kinds of obnoxious things to say about the writers who have been returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards in protest against the recent events that have been plaguing the nation – including the murder of M.M. Kalburgi and the Dadri lynching.

Responses have ranged from careless declarations on television debates that “writers should write, not speak” and they just want their “fifteen minutes of fame” to statements along the lines of “of course they want to return their awards, the act is getting them more fame than their writing ever did.” Underlying most responses, however, is the claim that the only reason writers are protesting now is because they are anti Modi.

It is a fact that equally condemnable events have taken place under the Congress regime, but just because as many, or those particular, voices weren’t raised then doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be raised now.

Two things must be remembered. First, the reason a lot of people were skeptical about the BJP winning and Modi becoming the Prime Minister was because of concerns about secularism and the fear that, with alliance partners like Shiv Sena and roots in the RSS, Hindutva and religious nationalism would take over and eliminate the religious and cultural diversity that makes India the exceptional country it is. In such a situation, Modi had a point to prove, and needed to come out and speak up, clearing his stand and reassuring the citizens of India that action would be taken against those who participated in or incited communal violence.

Secondly, everyone reaches a tipping point. An individual event may not elicit as strong a response as several similar events over several years, or over one year. To say that every single writer who has returned his or her award is doing so only because Narendra Modi is in power is ridiculous. To say “if they feel so strongly about this, why didn’t they return their awards during the Muzaffarnagar riots?” etc., is outrageous. That is the same as saying that everyone who protested against the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012 was anti Congress, or anti Manmohan Singh – “the condition of women has been terrible for years together, why didn’t people speak up earlier? Why now? They’re blinded by their hatred for the Congress.

They’re just looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.”

Ode to a Beloved Grandfather


He was the best kind of man – a man of dignity and integrity, with a well-read, informed, liberal mind, and a heart that belonged, partly, to his three granddaughters.

He dreamt of a day when they would move back to the same city he lived in, reviving all the happy weekends they used to spend together, with added elements – watching films together, discussing books, playing chess with his youngest, naughtiest baby.
He dreamt of a day when they would take his books, his Dickens and his Tolstoys, and turn the same pages he had turned, so many times, over so many years, losing themselves to the same plots, the same characters, becoming privy to the paths he had walked down so often.
He dreamt of a day when they would go out of the country to pursue their education, travelling, absorbing themselves in new cultures, new experiences, and different ways of thinking.
He dreamt of a day when he would finally open and enjoy that bottle of whiskey he had so fondly been saving up for his eldest granddaughter’s wedding, to commemorate the big step in her precious life.
He dreamt of a day when he would become a great grandfather, watching his granddaughters’ children waddling around the house, much like the babies in the television advertisements he came across so often.

Then he dreamt no more.

But he taught his granddaughters to dream, and he gave them the courage and the self-belief to go out and pursue their dreams, by giving them a sense, even in his absence, of being loved, of being looked after, of being worth something, worth everything.

Someday, hopefully, those dreams will be fulfilled- theirs and his – but he won’t be around, with his warm smile and his big hugs, to partake in the joy and the celebrations.

Except, in a way, he will.

Because if he never left the minds and hearts of his granddaughters in the first place, he was never really absent from their lives – in times of celebration or sorrow – and he never will be.

Cows, Country, Chaos

Cows have been attracting a lot of attention in India recently – any day now Narendra Modi will appear out of nowhere and pull them out of our minds by their elbows.

While I sat in a car in Islay, Scotland, like a good, stereotypical Hindu girl, respectfully waiting for a herd of well-fed cows to cross the road (let’s pretend I had a choice), members of my country’s administration suddenly discovered their love and admiration for the creatures before me and promptly banned their slaughter in Maharashtra.

A few days later, a mob dragged a 52-year-old Muslim farmer and his son out of their home in Bisara, U.P., and beat them both, killing the former and grievously injuring the latter, all because they had allegedly slaughtered a cow.

Three things are troubling about this incident. Firstly, what it indicates about the direction in which religious tolerance in our country is going, a question brought to the fore by the beef ban in Maharashtra as well. Secondly, what it shows about the kind of political and judicial system we have, which has clearly failed to create any fear of repercussions or punishment when it comes to bloodshed on religious grounds. Thirdly, the troubling mentality of the culprits who felt slaughtering a cow was reason enough for a death penalty declared by a quick public trial. Blood for blood. Slaughter for slaughter. An eye for an eye.

Protecting life in any form is important, but motivation for preventing slaughter of cows in both these cases was convoluted – protection was in the name of politics, and in the name of religion – no one really cared about the animal itself.

The defenders were people, like many others in the world, who believe some animals are too sacred, or too holy, or often just too darn cute, to be killed and eaten. They’ll claim they’re repelled by people who eat dogs while simultaneously digging into a juicy, scrumptious steak. They’ll turn up their noses at pork and then go home and eat some nice, hot chicken. They’ll speak up for their cows, and kill each other to make their point. They’ll defend one life but take another, ignoring the blatant hypocrisy, feeling incredibly righteous.

And they’ll try their hardest, by hook or by crook, to ‘tempt’ others to do as they do, to have the same amount of respect or disregard as they do for the same lives. They’ll try to take away the choices that people make, with smirks and sneers and laws and violence. And they’ll slowly, maybe without realising, take away the grounding these choices, and others like them, give to democracy, take away the diversity, until the nation as we know it is lost, and we are too.

Because who cares about equality – in the human or animal world – it’s all a farce. As George Orwell once said:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”


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