What I learnt this year

Today is the last day of 2008. I am going on a road trip by myself. Something I could’ve never done in India. I have travelled to Sikkim by myself in 2000 and went to Varanasi this year but the concept of driving my car through rural New Zealand can only happen in New Zealand. Speaking in relative terms, how safe is this country? Very. It is more than a month now since the terrorist attacks on my hometown Bombay. As I have mentioned many times before, the name Mumbai conjures up a singular, parochial, ultra-right-wing Hindu patriarchal identity that reduces the people of the city into disposable humans. That is what the ruling class have done to India. That is what the business class is doing to India and that is what the communists are doing to India. The Congress party, the current government of India is a namby-pamby American slave. The right wing, the Hindutva brigade pay obeisance to Hitler and think nothing of creating mayhem just to ‘cleanse’ the country. The communists have no practical socialist agenda and don’t really offer space for dialogue or solutions. (Mind you I am a lefty, if I have to be placed within a spectrum I will lean towards socialism. And no it is not dead. The marketing machine has lost its mojo.)

Anyway, after crying my heart out over what happened in Bombay on 26-27 November, I deliberately did not write a blog about it because I did not want to blubber on about what wrong the politicians are doing. They are easy fodder. I am interested in what the educated middle class Indian thinks, what the media thinks and what we are going to do about it. It is easy for me, sitting here in Auckland to comment about Bombay/India. I might not have been able to do it if I still lived in Bombay.  So I waited anbd watched. There was the typical reaction. ‘We need more security’; ‘attack Pakistan’; ‘politicians are real terrorists’ etc. The media plays an interesting role in India. Rubert Murdoch’s Star network set the ‘standard’ by having an insidious, right-wing agenda for an aspirational middle class that only blames politicians. Now the others have adapted that too. There is a lot of shouting on Indian television.  And place only for elitist analysis. The Times Of India I find particularly fascinating. When I was little my grandfather inisted on me reading TOI because I could improve my English. Now I cringe when I read it online. It is a habit I find hard to break , sadly. So I cringe and carp about the language and the agenda. TOI is so subtly right wing that if you blinked you could miss it. There is talk of Shining India and success and all the trappings a growing middle class needs to feel separate and superior to the poor. The subtext is all ‘them’ and ‘us’. There has not been an analysis of the attacks or why they happened.

Fortunately, the Indian middle class seems to be waking up. Candlelight vigils and protests are the trend for the moment. A trend, my cynical mind says. Politicians have screwed up the country, they all say. What about us, we the people? Do we abdicate after voting each year? I agree the ruling classes have deliberately made it difficult for the common man to obtain information, there is lack of transparency, lack of proper process or dialogue and I will go even so far as to state that illiteracy is a desirable condition for politicians because the illiterate and poor can be manipulated. But then so can the educated middle class. Manipulated to believe that it is always someone else’s fault. Why hasn’t anyone spoken about the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots in 1992-1993 that led to the bomb blasts on 12 March 1993? We made our country vulnerable! We continue to keep it vulnerable with the socio-economic disparity, religious differences, intolerance and patriarchy. LK Advani, at his age,  should be practicing vanaprashtashram not spreading hatred. I am sorry to say but ek pair kabar mein (one foot in the grave) and he is dying to become the Prime Minister of India.

The way we have created our society, the myth about ‘respecting our elders’ does not permit us to ask sane questions or challenge notions-which is why Indian youth rarely fall out of line. Which is why, as a middle class, it took us one horrific incident to begin to take responsibility for ourselves. The way we let the rich and elite rule us, the media mould our minds that we have not yet learnt the art and craft of serious, critical discourse. Can we talk about introspection? Can we see how we consume and maintain populist sentiment because it is ‘safe’? Can we see how repeated talk about ‘security’ has blinded us to the cracks within?

Out of all the writings that came out after 26/11/2008, this essay by Arundhati Roy encompasses all the issues and why India should not be enslaved to America and why we need to start talking about our problems, not leave them to the rich, elite or political class.

I cry for my Bombay. I see her decaying and dying. Her ‘spirit’, as the politicians so love to say, is nothing but the helplessness of a people bound to earning their living in the face of hardship and recession. There is no space or place for them to seek counselling, to express their emotions-then it all comes out in riots and mental illness. I cry for this state of paralysis.

But through it I only see hope. Maybe we Indians will learn to take charge on day, to challenge, to see tangentially, to counter politicians and the media, to be able to laugh at ourselves, to constantly introspect and not feel ashamed about it. I hope.

That is what I learnt this year. For something good to happen, we first have to experience something horrible. And of course that the world is connected no matter what. If we don’t want more attacks on Bombay we have to think about how the Israel-Palestinian issue can be sorted. Because everything has a trickle down affect.

Happy New Year (and more blogging from me, inshallah.)

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