Monday, September 29, 2008

Crash and the Blast

I woke up disturbed that Saturday morning. It was partly to do with less sleep and partly to the movie I was watching on friday evening. Crash- the movie which won several awards including Oscars is very provocative and sensitive at the same time. It stirs something very basic inside you ….questions the stereotypes we built around us in a multi ethnic society …and leaves many questions unanswered. The movie follows few characters living in Los Angles in a span of 36 hours and chronicles the racial tensions , their volatile interactions and their struggles to come out of the distrust and fear of one another. It searches the grey area between the victim and aggressor , black and white ….where there are no permanently right answers and people collide into each others’ lives helplessly playing both victim and aggressor simultaneously. The images were still fresh in my mind next morning. Though the movie is about post 9/11 America the comparison with any multi ethnic society comes naturally.
To lighten up my mood I decided to go round the markets. Not for any real shopping but just to come out of the gloom and fill in myself with more pleasant smells and sounds than a bullet shot. But it was not to be so ….half way into a south Delhi market I got a desperate call form my husband to come back. There was yet another Saturday bomb blast in Delhi. This time in Mehrauli. Once again killing several innocent people including a child who lend an innocent helping hand to the bombers by trying to pick the tiffin case in which bomb was planted. The news means several things to me. My weekly shopping at nearby mall goes for a six. My husband will be late from work-as his news channel would be following the blast and after blast coverage till midnight and my dear friend Rani would be patrolling the Delhi roads with her policemen whole night to prevent any further mishap. More than these a sad taste will cover over our weekend . In brief a weekend wasted for no fault of any of us.
On my way home the crash images again started flashing in my mind. Its the same distrust and fear that is seeping in our society too. Hindus fearing Muslims, Muslims fearing Hindus, Dalits fearing upper castes ,Biharis fearing Marathis and so on. Anyone can put a bomb anywhere in Indian cities . We have just too many crowed public places to protect. So far after a blast the city resumes its normal pace within few days …in a very helpless , very resigned way . But the images never fade in the mind. With each such incident the level of distrust goes higher and higher . With all these recent bombings by Muslim hardliners, are we not going to lose all trust on Muslims-all Muslims, though we know that most of them are innocent victims of these mishaps like rest of us. But how to distinguish between the two groups . As a friend commented the other day , if anyone is planting a bomb in a children’s park- there is only one explanation . There is mind that is mad! No amount of brainwashing, philosophy of Jihad , poverty or lack of education can justify this act. Its unfortunate that intolerance between groups is increasing day by day. In my growing up years we were hardly conscious of the other person’s caste or religion…but no more now. The defining limits of Hindu and Muslim clusters are getting more and more distinct. Its very unfortunate that several secular features of language and arts are also getting religious-ised . The Ganga Jamuni culture of Hindustan is almost lost . What is worse is that we always find reasons to spread hatred against each other . Its not only Hindu-Muslim, There are also regional, castist and ethnic colours of hatred and terror .
What cause one an serve with such random killings . Its such a waste of human life and effort . The future seems rather gloomy . It appears that soon we would be suspecting each stranger in the vicinity and no unknown face will get friendly smile from the neighbours and colleagues .I feel very upset and aggrieved with these changes . How are we going to survive with such ridiculously low tolerance and respect for one another? After all , moving with the speed of life…we are bound to collide into each other .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We must kill Mickey Mouse!

If you are shocked by the title of this post please read this news item . Mickey Mouse must die for the good of Islam, a leading Saudi cleric said last month in a broadcast on al-Majd TV. This same cleric on August 10 had denounced the Beijing Olympics as the "bikini Olympics," saying the immodest dress of women athletes was "satanic" and issued a fatwa against women's participation in the Olympics as the games were also "satanic". In 2005 he denounced soccer, saying the short pants worn by players "reveal nakedness." He called for a ban on women's sports and public exercise as to do so would require them to don "tight fitting, short" tunics that were offensive to Muslim decorum.
In the present case he was actually asked to state the Islamic legal teaching on mice. He responded that mice were called "little corrupters" in Sharia and it was permissible to kill them at all times. "The mouse is one of Satan's soldiers and is steered by him," he explained, adding that should a mouse come in contact with food, the food must be disposed of as the mouse is an impure creature. "According to Islamic law, the mouse is a repulsive, corrupting creature," he said, adding that he was concerned that popular culture had given mice an undeserved positive image. "How do you think children view mice today - after Tom and Jerry?" he asked. "Even creatures that are repulsive by nature, by logic, and according to Islamic law have become wonderful and are loved by children. Even mice. Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases."
I know nothing about Sharia or any other law but I know a lot about ‘Tom and Jerry’ , Mickey mouse and other cartoon characters. A devoted viewer of cartoons I feel they are the highest form of creativity in today’s media world. I came to know about this fatwa on Mickey mouse through my husband, who in the news room of his TV channel accidentally come across this wire. This ‘news’ was received in the news room with much amusement and everybody laughed at the issue…everybody except one colleague of his. This fellow argued that the cleric is asking for the right thing – for wrong reasons. He agreed with the rest that such ridiculous interpretation of any scripture is foolish but argued that Mickey mouse and the entire gang of cartoon characters are responsible for erasing local and regional flavours of upbringing of children. His arguement does have some strength . There are very good attempts these days to tell children about our cultural characters like Hanuman, Tenali raman and Gopal Bhand etc through their ‘disney-isation’ . How true are these animated versions to the folk tales they are claim to be originated from? Don’t you feel that animated avatars of chota Birbal, Tenali raman and Hanuman do the same stunts as Aladdin and Mickey mouse?For that matter Disney’s Aladdin is also miles away from the original character from Arabian Nights . Stories for these are mostly written for American kids and they are full of contemporary American notions . Disney on its side is trying to enhance local elements in its characters. Disney princesses are no longer always blonde with blue eyes and their characters at times speak with different accents. But is this enough? Despite being a die-hard fan of animations and all these Disney creations I can not acquit them from the charge of killing our local culture.
On second thoughts …is it Disney or is it market ? Market which ensures that world over kids eat similar potato chips , drink same soft drinks and watch similar sitcoms. Market which ensures that all popular English (read American ) sitcoms are available in their Hindi versions too. No not through dubbing ….an entire new series with Indian faces and Indian setup but with the copied concept and script. Let us face the truth – these are a hit with their targeted clientele . These animated versions are cute and there is a lot of creativity in the series also . No wonder kids are wearing Harry Potter T shirts and cuddling Chota-hanuman ‘ stuff toys with equal fondness . Even Indianised version of Batman and Superman- Krrish and Shaktiman go well with the children…even when they are selling biscuits and chewing gums through advertisements . So is it a good bargain that our kids know about our mythical characters but only through a Disney filter? More importantly can we stop the forces of globalisation to make everything-including our myths, history and folktales, as they deem fit. I really have no answer for that. I strongly feel that Mickey mouse should not be killed but should Mickey meet T-shirt wearing Hanuman in Akbar’s court …..I really don’t think that is a good idea either.

PS: If you wish to read more about my views on animations in India from the industry point of view read this article .

Friday, September 5, 2008

The sophisticated sychophant

"... this man, who has crawled and crept through life, wounding the hands he licked, and biting those he fawned upon: this sycophant, who never knew what honour, truth, or courage meant...
— Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, Ch. 43

Its not that there are no such people in other organisations , sectors and places but just that I encounter this species most in Delhi. They are found everywhere - in all age groups and in all surroundings. What distinguishes them so distinctly is a very polite gesture on face(nearly always) and a wish to please . They call it courtesy , I call it sycophancy . In action what they do is nothing unusual, its the reason why they do so makes all the difference. I find it strange that if someone has died in the family of a service officer I hardly know why should I go and convey my condolences , or if a BIG boss( with whom i hardly meet otherwise) has got a further promotion I should I take an appointment to congratulate him/her. But many others do it as ' a matter of courtesy'. I am even fine with this courtesy bit if it is genuine. But how do you justify the reaction if it is exactly opposite of what they really think. You hate the person , call him a blood sucker and such other words but would not mind going to him with a bouquet in hand on his birthday or promotion.

Now the big question- or as I said, the element making it sycophancy is the reason . I feel( though everyone vehemently decline ) its for career goodies, business promotion and in general keeping superiors in 'good humour' . Its so strange that when one joins a profession one feels he/she can rely on his/her skills and competency but within few years even the so called smart ones start believing in factors which can be loosely clubbed in the category of sophisticated sycophancy. For some it is so much a matter of habit that they do not even realise that they are going overboard . I too face it with my subordinates . Imagine after the lousiest presentation of my life this young officer comes to my room and request for a copy of the most 'wonderful presentation he has ever seen'. I need not even look at his face . His words betray their meaning . The tone is all made up and the only intention is to get noticed .
Have you ever noticed what are the commandments in a sycophant's world? Let me list out few- the sirs always right and the ma'am always give very appropriate advices. They always have very bright ideas on everything from gardening to parenting and from governance to global warming. Bosses always have the best taste in music and wine and their offspring are lovely little angels even if they break your car's window while playing . Dare you contradict them- how foolish! how very uncool ! Argument with a superior on anything related/unrelated with work......nah ...that's blasphemy .
These days I wonder whether all these tricks pay off in the end. My answer is yes and no . Yes if the person you are trying to please is also as dumb as you'd like him to be and no , if he has a better discretion. I would still feel that if a superior falls for such false praise and respect he is not worthy of any real one. Why should I lower my dignity to cater such a person's ego?After all those who are worth praise and respect would see through these rituals easily . One always come across stories of people who got a plush posting or some other 'goody' by being his boss's slave but I don't feel that so far I fared badly by speaking my mind , not indulging in such rituals of praise and even differing with bosses also . In fact I was lucky to find bosses who even after fighting with me on work related issues always rated me high in performance appraisals. I can say this with some certainty as I too as a boss can not think too positive of people who do not miss a single occasion of praising me , my dress, my way of working and of all handwriting!! At times I feel sorry for the celebrities and people on top of their fields of work . There are of course people who despite attaining great heights lack great depths (in fact they form the majority )but for the rest what a torture it must be to always be on guard against such false compliments and admirers.
Last week after another round of promotions of bigwigs of our department when a colleague asked me if I would care to come on a 'mission congratulations' to a big boss I told her to ask the old man on my behalf how is the scene from up there . How many bald heads he can see from the top? She was obviously scandalised by my response .