Sunday 7 July 2013

Silly little Twitty-ditties

I've been waiting
For something.
Hoping, praying, wishing;
Madly desiring.
Each second an eternity
Begun anew.
You could end it;
Please do??

I think I'm still
Missing you;
Each thought stirs up
Nostalgia anew.
I long for one
I might talk to;
Who else have I
Dear Twitter, but you?

Sometimes it's so hard
To resist temptation;
Desire and longing for
Such a potent infatuation.
The more you get
The greater the expectation.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

On Holi

Human festivals, religiously motivated or otherwise, are occasions for us to express our innate sociality. For a short while, we can forget all about our individual day-to-day lives, our personal fears and anxieties, in order to become part of something much bigger and grander. Something that makes us feel, to use a fashionable catchphrase, as if "we're all in this together". However, there are also a few of us who are unable to truly participate, even though we might like to, because of our sheer social ineptitude. So whilst the rest of the world gallivants about, playing and laughing and making merry, those like me sit in solitude, observing and pondering...

Festivals can also be great levellers, because by their very nature, they suggest a subversion of one's individual ego. I think Holi is especially humbling in this sense. Our other great North Indian festival, Diwali, is partly a celebration of wealth (or at least its modern avatar has taken on that character); an occasion for fancy lighting and decorations and lavish gifts and generally showing off one's wordly success, whilst praying for more of the same. This is not to criticise it; Diwali too has many wonderful aspects, and it too is fundamentally about indulging our social selves. However, it's hard to deny that to a large extent, the Diwalis of the rich and the poor are played out in rather different worlds.

Holi, on the other hand, is egalitarian at its very core. The magic of Holi is the breaking down of social barriers: class, caste, religion, age. I recall how as children, every Holi, we loved to patrol the street outside our family home in Bareilly, making sure that no passerby, human or vehicular, escaped without being hit by a mild jet of coloured goop. It didn't matter how well-dressed they were, or how fancy their car was; on this day everyone was fair game. Everyone would be daubed and soaked and generally made into a multi-coloured clown; all human vanities would be rendered defunct.

To me, even the apparent craziness of these riots of colour has a potent symbolism. Our external appearance as multi-coloured clowns reflects the many different facets of life that go into making us what we are. Holi is about a blurring of identities, and in doing so it reinforces how fluid and messy the very notion of identity is. When someone asks me who I am, what should I say? Do I say I'm an Indian? Or a Hindi-speaker? Or a Hindu? Or a Baniya? Or a man? Or a teacher? Or a scientist? Or a brother? Or a son? As Amartya Sen writes in his fascinating book, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, all of us have so many different identities that become relevant in different contexts. And it's when we begin to be obsessed with one particular notion of identity, at the cost of all the others, that we sow the seeds for so many of our social evils.

Holi is a reminder that, despite all the artificial barriers we like to construct, we're not really all that different. Man or woman; rich or poor; Brahmin or Dalit; Hindu or Muslim; Indian or Pakistani: we're all a multi-coloured, multi-faceted mess. We all have much more in common than we like to think. To slightly tweak Shylock's famous oration from The Merchant of Venice:
Hath not [we all] eyes? Hath not [we all] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer [...]? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
Perhaps Holi teaches us that the best answer to the question "Who am I?" is simply this: A messy, crazy, human being.

Friday 15 March 2013

National Assembly of Pakistan's resolution on Afzal Guru's hanging


Devanagari transliteration, followed by English translation:

14 मार्च 2013


यह ऐवान अफ़ज़ल गुरु की फाँसी के बाद मक़बूज़ा कश्मीर में पैदा होने वाली सूरत-ए-हाल पर गहरी तश्वीश का इज़हार करती है। भारत की रियासती वहशियाना कार्यवाहियों की मज़मत करते हुए भारत पर ज़ोर देता है कि अफ़ज़ल गुरु का जसिद-ए-ख़ाकी लवाहिक़ीन के हवाले करे। मक़बूज़ा कश्मीर में क़त्ल-ओ-ग़ारत बंद करे, अपनी फ़ौज शहरी आबादी से निकाले और काले क़वानीन मनसूख़ करे। कर्फ़्यू उठाये। मीडिया ब्लैक आउट ख़तम करे, कश्मीरी लीडरों और क़ैद किये गये हज़ारों नौजवानों को रिहा करे। मज़हबी फ़राइज़ की अदायगी में हाइल न हो, मसजिदों को ताले न लगाये और इनसानी हुक़ूक़ की बैन उल-अक़वामी तनज़ीमों को मक़बूज़ा कश्मीर में आने दे।

ऐवान एआदा करता है कि कश्मीरी अवाम बैन उल-अक़वामी क़ानून, अक़वाम-ए-मुत्तहिदा के चार्टर, अक़वाम-ए-मुत्तहिदा की क़रारदादों, यूनिवरसल डेक्लरेशन बराए इनसानी हुक़ूक़ और ग़ैर वाबस्ता तनज़ीम की क़रारदाद के मुताबिक़ अपने हक़-ए-ख़ुदारादियत के हुसूल के लिये पुर अमन जिद्दोजहद कर रहे हैं जो इनका बुनियादी हक़ है। पाकिस्तान कश्मीरियों की इस जाइज़ जिद्दोजहद की मुकम्मल हिमायत करता है। और कश्मीरियों को यक़ीन दिलाता है कि इस जिद्दोजहद में वह अकेले नहीं हैं, पूरी पाकिस्तानी क़ौम उनके साथ है। और वह कश्मीरियों की सिफ़ारती, सियासी और इख़लाक़ी मदद जारी रखेगी।

ऐवान वाज़ह करता है कि कश्मीर अक़वाम-ए-मुत्तहिदा की क़रारदादों के मुताबिक़ एक तसफ़िया तलब मसला है और यह भारत का अंदरूनी मसला नहीं है।

ऐवान अक़वाम-ए-आलम से अपील करता है कि वो कश्मीर की सूरत-ए-हाल पर ख़ामोश तमाशाई न बनें और भारत को मजबूर करें कि कश्मीरियों पर ज़ुल्म-ओ-सितम बंद करे और मसला-ए-कश्मीर हल करे।


अक़वाम-ए-मुत्तहिदा सलामती काउन्सिल की क़रारदादों पर अमल दरामद कराने के लिये अमली इक़दामात करे।

मौलाना फ़ज़ल-उर-रहमान
चेयरमैन, ख़सूसी कमिटी क़ौमी असेम्बली बराए कश्मीर

14 March 2013


This House expresses its deep concern at the situation arising in Occupied Kashmir following the hanging of Afzal Guru. Whilst condemning the Indian state's savage actions, it strongly urges India to surrender Afzal Guru's mortal remains to his family. To end its killings and pillaging in Occupied Kashmir, to withdraw its army from the civilian population, and to annul its repressive laws. To lift the curfew. To end the media blackout, to release Kashmiri leaders and the thousands of imprisoned youth. To not interfere with the performance of religious duties, to not lock up the mosques, and to allow international human rights organisations entry into Occupied Kashmir.

The House reiterates that as per international law, the UN charter, UN resolutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a Non-Aligned Movement resolution, the Kashmiri people are waging a peaceful struggle to obtain self-determination, which is their fundamental right. Pakistan fully supports the Kashmiris in this legitimate struggle. And assures the Kashmiris that they are not alone in this struggle, the entire Pakistani nation is with them. And it will continue with its diplomatic, political, and moral support to Kashmiris.

The House makes clear that as per UN resolutions, Kashmir is an unresolved issue and is not an internal issue of India.

The House appeals to the international community not to be a silent spectator of the situation in Kashmir, and to compel India such that it ends its crimes and atrocities against Kashmiris and resolves the issue of Kashmir.


Takes practical steps towards the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions.

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman
Chairman, National Assembly's Special Committee on Kashmir

Wednesday 6 March 2013

I am accused...

At times of loneliness and despair, what better balm than the magic of Faiz?

ہم پر تمہاری چاہ کا الزام ہی تو ہے
دشنام تو نہیں ہے، یہ اکرام ہی تو ہے

کرتے ہیں جس پہ طعن کوئی جرم تو نہیں
شوقِ فضول و الفتِ ناکام ہی تو ہے

دل مدّعی کے حرفِ ملامت سے شاد ہے
اے جانِ جاں یہ حرف ترا نام ہی تو ہے

دل نا امید تو نہیں، ناکام ہی تو ہے
لبمی ہے غم کی شام مگر شام ہی تو ہے

دستِ فلک میں گردشِ تقدیر تو نہیں
دستِ فلک میں گردشِ ایّام ہی تو ہے

آخر تو ایک روز کرے گی نظر وفا
وہ یارِ خوش خصال سرِ بام ہی تو ہے

بھیگی ہے رات فیض غزل ابتدا کرو
وقتِ سرود، درد کا ہنگام ہی تو ہے

हम पर तुम्हारी चाह का इल्ज़ाम ही तो है
दुशनाम तो नहीं है, यह इक्राम ही तो है

करते हैं जिस पे तान कोई जुर्म तो नहीं
शौक़-ए-फ़िज़ूल-ओ-उल्फ़त-ए-नाकाम ही तो है

दिल मुद्दाई के हर्फ़-ए-मलामत से शाद है
ए जान-ए-जां यह हर्फ़ तेरा नाम ही तो है

दिल न-उम्मीद तो नहीं, नाकाम ही तो है
लम्बी है ग़म की शाम मगर शाम ही तो है

दस्त-ए-फ़लक में गर्दिश-ए-तक़दीर तो नहीं
दस्त-ए-फ़लक में गर्दिश-ए-अय्याम ही तो है

आख़िर तो एक रोज़ करेगी नज़र वफ़ा
वो यार-ए-ख़ुशख़साल सर-ए-बाम ही तो है

भीगी है रात फ़ैज़ ग़ज़ल इब्तिदा करो
वक़्त-ए-सरोद, दर्द का हँगाम ही तो है

[I am accused merely of desiring you
Which is no insult, indeed an honour

What they mock me for, 'tis no crime
Merely a useless passion, a failed affection

My heart is elated by their words of blame
O beloved, these words are but your name

The heart does not despair, it merely fails
'Tis a long eve of sorrow; but evenings end

The cycles of fate are not in God's hands
He merely controls life's routine treadmill

Some day, my gaze will finally bear fruit
The virtuous beloved is but on the roof above

The night is deep, Faiz; begin your poetry
The time for song, 'tis indeed the season of pain]

Monday 25 February 2013

All's unfair in love...

Once in a while, you read something, some short passage from a book or magazine or something, that just makes you sit up and go "Wow! That's just what I've been thinking!". I guess one of the talents of a great writer is to be able to take universal human thoughts and feelings, and express them in clear and compelling words. One such quote, which perhaps struck me more powerfully than any other thus far, comes from The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh:
[T]hat state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings — the idea of justice. It is only because love is so profoundly the enemy of justice that our minds, shrinking in horor from its true nature, try to tame it by uniting it with its opposite [...] in the hope that if we apply all the metaphors of normality, that if we heap them high enough, we shall, in the end, be able to approximate that state metaphorically.
At the time I first read this, I had been thinking quite a lot about the general lack of fairness or justice in human relationships, and in particular the apparent paradox that the closer a relationship between two people is, the less 'fair' it seems to be! The above quote (and its context) seemed to me to capture beautifully the opposition between things like logic, reasoning, calculation, and justice on the one hand; and feelings, emotions, intuition, and love on the other hand — an opposition that perhaps fundamentally defines human nature. Since then, the turbulence of my own relationships has caused me to ponder further on this conflict, and I have been led to the conclusion that therein lies the solution to my paradox: the closer a relationship is, the more heavily tilted it is towards the pole of feelings/emotions/intuition/love, and thus the less space there remains for the other pole of logic/reasoning/calculation/justice!

However, it is not necessary for a truly close relationship to exist in order to observe the effects of this conflict. In fact, it is most dramatically illustrated in settings where the feelings the two people have towards each other are asymmetric, e.g., the classic case of the one-sided lover. This is also the context in The Shadow Lines, where the narrator is deeply infatuated with his cousin, who doesn't really care for him. In fact, romantic infatuation tends to be such an illogical, unfair thing even to begin with. You could fall head over heels in love with someone who hardly knows you; someone who doesn't even care about you, who's done nothing to 'earn' that love. At the same time, you might have feelings of only mild attachment or even indifference towards someone (say, a family member) who truly loves you and has done everything they could for you. So clearly, there is a certain kind of love, the most storied and enigmatic kind, which cannot really be 'earned', which does not follow any kind of logic of justice or reciprocity. And it is this conflict of the overpowering emotion with the logical side of the human mind that has caused so much distress and sorrow to lovers (particularly males, perhaps, but that's another story) down the centuries. For there is perhaps no greater human desire than to be loved as much as you love; no greater pain than the knowledge that your beloved doesn't care for you. Ghalib, as always, expressed it wonderfully:
दिल-ए-नादां तुझे हुआ क्या है
आख़िर इस दर्द की दवा क्या है

हम हैं मुश्ताक़ और वह बेज़ार
या इलाही यह माजरा क्या है

[What afflicts you, o naïve heart
What cure is there for this pain?

I full of yearning, and she fed up
O Lord, what tangle is this?]
Another way of looking at this is to think about a case where two people really do share a close mutual relationship, whether friendship or love. The closer we feel to someone, the less expectation we tend to have that they should reciprocate our favours; in fact we perhaps even cease to regard them as favours. Whereas in a more formal relationship with an acquaintance or colleague, we tend to be much more aware of a feeling of indebtedness towards them when they help us in some way, and we consciously seek to repay such kindness at the first opportunity. In fact, one of the features in the development of a close relationship between two people appears to be a gradual shift in the extent to which they feel the need to be 'fair' to each other. The sense of this is captured in a meme contrasting a 'friend' with a 'best friend': A friend, it says, is one who will share her lunch with you; but a best friend is one who will even snatch away your own lunch. A friend is one who will be careful to return a book you've lent him; a best friend will forget all about it and laugh it off when you remind him... Despite being half in jest, this sort of juxtaposition does in a sense seem to get at something fundamental about the nature of a relationship based on love (taken in a broad sense), as opposed to reciprocity or fairness.

So if it is true that love and justice are at some level essentially opposed, does this mean that in our relationships with people we can only have one or the other? Evidently not; indeed, in practice there is bound to be a mixture of both these facets of our nature, and as just noted, the process of forming a close relationship appears to involve a gradual shift in which one gets prioritised. But perhaps a realisation of this conflict has some implications for the processes that are most likely to lead to the formation of successful relationships. For instance, in India we have a widely prevalent custom of arranged marriage, which undoubtedly does lead to happy outcomes in a large number of instances. Is it, however, the optimal way of finding one's life partner? It would seem self-evident that the most important ingredient in a successful marriage is love, almost by definition. Whereas the process of arranging a marriage represents an attempt to find an appropriate partner based on reasoning and calculation: the personalities should be compatible, there should be common interests, the families should resemble each other in lifestyle and culinary practices, and so on. Can such factors really predict for the blossoming of true love? It would certainly appear not, given the opposition we have just been discussing. Indeed, there are numerous clichés about (romantic) love which seem to reinforce the notion of its irrationality and unpredictability: "opposites attract", "love at first sight", etc.

Does it really make sense, then, to try and 'arrange' love, or is it best to just let it happen naturally? I think, if parents are to be fair to their children, they should take the latter approach. But then, parents also love their children. So, in a way, even the prevalence of arranged marriage serves to demonstrate my point!

Friday 4 January 2013

We're Humans, not Barbarians

Don't tell me women should dress conservatively, or not go out at night, or not drink, or avoid the company of men ('for their own safety'). As a man, that insults me. It tells me that you regard me as a barbarian; that you think it's my natural tendency to rape a woman at the slightest sense of opportunity. It tells me that you think I'm a wild beast whom women should live in perpetual fear of. So don't give me any of that nonsense. If men misbehave, incriminate them, and incriminate the values and conditioning that society gives them. Don't try to excuse it as natural male behaviour, or to blame women for being too 'outgoing'. That's obviously sexist and demeaning of women; but at the same time, it demeans men too.

A similar argument applies to many other forms of violence that are sought to be explained away as 'natural'. In the aftermath of the horrific 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi infamously said, "when a big tree falls the earth will shake". The post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002 have often been described by L. K. Advani and other BJP leaders as the 'natural reaction' of the Hindu community. Do these people not realise how profoundly demeaning their statements are, not just of the minority communities, but more pertinently, of the majority community? As a Hindu, are you telling me that it is my natural tendency to go out and slaughter thousands of innocent Muslims or Sikhs, in revenge for a crime committed by a few terrorists? Is that what Hinduism is? Is that the 'Hindutva' that the BJP would like us to be proud of? Such mindless, barbaric reactions can only be the result of extreme provocation and fear, which our politicians have always specialised in whipping up and exploiting. To describe them as in any way natural is a great affront to the dignity not only of the particular communities concerned, but of humanity itself.

So when men or mobs become dehumanised monsters, don't tell me that's just how we are. Don't tell me the victims are at fault for having provoked us. Don't tell me we're barbarians; because we're humans.

Saturday 29 December 2012

I Won't Let You Go

Whenever I find myself in a new city, there are three things I cannot resist doing:
  1. Strolling around the streets randomly and aimlessly.
  2. Popping into every bookstore I spot.
  3. Acquiring at least one book with a local connection.
Thus, having arrived in Kolkata just this morning on a 20-hour-delayed train (but that's another story), I duly proceeded to complete all three tasks, in sequence, within the space of 12 hours. Having decided to bunk the tutorial I was supposed to be attending, I was walking down the CIT Road, ducking and weaving my way through the heaving masses of evening shoppers and pavement vendors, when what should I spy but a Crossword bookstore? So in I promptly went, and in due course out I came, clutching a collection of Tagore's poems in English translation. And the very first one I tried struck home deeply and movingly. Tagore's use of lush imagery, in the sensuous Bengali style, is legendary, and whilst I can only wish I could read the originals, occasionally a translation too seems to convey a very powerful sense of it. Here's an excerpt:
In what a profound sadness are sky and earth
immersed! The further I go,
the more I hear the same piteous note:
'I won't let you go!' From the earth's edge
to the outermost limits of the blue heavens rings
this perennial cry, without beginning, without end:
'I won't let you go! I won't let you go!' That's what
they all say — 'I won't let you go!' Mother Earth,
holding the littlest grass-stalk to her breast,
says with all her power: 'I won't let you go!'
And in a lamp about to go out, someone seems
to pull the dying flame from darkness' grasp,
saying a hundred times, 'Ah, I won't let you go!'
From heaven to earth in this infinite universe
this is the oldest statement, the deepest cry —
'I won't let you go!' And yet, alas,
we have to let go of everything, and they go.
Thus it has been since time without beginning.
In creation's torrent, carrier of deluging seas,
they all rush past with fierce velocity,
eyes burning, eager arms outstretched,
moaning, calling — 'Won't, won't let you go!' —
filling the shores of the cosmos with their clamour.
'Won't, won't let you go,' declares the rear wave
to the front wave, but none listens
or responds.
— Rabindranath Tagore (translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson)