Muslim Politics

A very young friend of mine who is already an internationally acclaimed scholar pursuing his post graduate in a globally reputed University in England and from who I always have learnt a semester worth of knowledge through his posts and shares, has obviously thrown cannon fodder into my thinking about the Muslim question in general. He is a Muslim ofcourse and despite his scholarship, he has remained a conservative Muslim eager to forever draw boundaries of differences whenever he feels vulnerable that such boundaries of his self-identity will dissolve in the face of the wide world which he has been constantly encountering. He comes from a rural background of prosperity and being a West Bengali, where Muslims have turned an indifferent eye towards the communal politics leading to the Partition. The only thing the Bengali Muslims in its many villages know that “they” are “bangals” and identity of the soil which is easily translatable as nationalism inheres the West Bengali Muslim. This is why, the rise of communal politics in the era of Mamata Banerjee who rode the wave of Bengali nationalism seems to be almost wholly out of place, and Bengali nationalism is not only about a communally harmonized Bengal but also Bengal’s imagination that it imagines the new and evolving India as its bounden duty.

My young friend seems to be stoking a certain brand of communal politics which resembles very closely the politics of Partition. Being the brilliant scholar that he is, he has drawn a map of Muslim population, shown those to be concentrated in some pockets, drawn a boundary line around it and dropped unmistakeable hints that these areas could secede. Secession is not too worrying for me, what worries me are two things; one is the provocation of a riot, which being a Bengali Muslim in the villages his family has not seen, but my family being Calcutta Hindus know too well and what it means for the person, property and psyche for generations to come. The other worry is what draws from him, his worry that the girls and women who have benefitted enormously from Mamata Banerjee will still continue to vote for her. So he worries how to control the women, which so quickly will translate into the purdah and eventually to domestic violence on them. He has also posted against Nusrat, a sitting MP and who is the image of a modern Musim woman who dresses like a Hindu Bengali, married a Hindu but still keeps her religion. His attacks against the progressive and successful Muslim woman portends the extent to which secessionist, divisive and communal politics can attack women of the community.

In a few posts earlier in the month, he has created a passion to vote against the TMC. His words seem to echo pretty widely too in some other fringe outfits and there is the all India Hindi speaking Muslim outfit which tries to do a Jinnah. The aim is to demolish the TMC, knowing fully well that it is the only viable barrier against the Hindu right wing fascist politics. So the Bengali Muslim now is transformed to the Partition seeking East Bengali Muslim of 1947, territorial consolidation, secession and an all India domination rather than regional autonomy. The Bengali Muslim is already demolished, separated from his homeland and driven by the interests of Owaisi from elsewhere, the West Bengali Muslim is veering towards a Pakistan. He has learnt a lot from history that Pakistans never survive, for they soon secede again along lines of nationalism and become fragmented nations. That’s the gain he is moving towards, he wants his own little world where he could be king; where his will would be the word, his way will be the way or else you can catch the highway. So India to Bengal to his even little territory; my brilliant friend is looking to shut the doors of his world from the influences from the outside world.  The trouble is that when the mind thinks this way, the final unit that might make him safe would be his own dwelling, or else may be his bathrooms, though village homes usually do not have them. Such minds are thus fearful minds. The trouble with fascism is that it is a whole politics based on the carrying of personal eccentricities into the public.

Yet I would wonder why a scholar, so promising, so well brought up with nothing to demand from the world on grounds of deprivations should suddenly move into a proletariat mood, emerge so harassed by social oppression so as to emerge into almost a vindictive violence. Things did not match up well. Just then, this morning, and he was one of the very first ones to respond to the incident of the US where Trump supporters have taken to street violence despite the poll verdict that has dislodged them. While my friends in the US look at the episode with downright disdain, they also shrug this off as saying that they have little energy left to address such aftermaths to a Kurukshetra. Unlike the Uttar Ramayana, the sequel to the Mahabharata goes without an impact because the war leaves even the readers so drained of energy. But my friend has seen in this incident the vindication of his fears, which has constituted his politics.

This fear of physical violence unleashed by the majoritarians/ nativists/fascists soon translates into a contempt, not for the perpetrators of the violence but towards the liberals, whose politics grants them space and freedom. One does not need to explain this further to a woman for a woman, even if she is not a feminist knows this for certain that the fear of violence braces her in every walk of life; this fear the man can never know and hence cannot gauge. By the same token, the fear of violence that the minority lives by cannot be gauged by a liberal, who does not experience this fear as part of her everyday life. Hence, as a liberal I have to understand by friend’s position, who by no means is unintelligent. While I understand his fear very well, what I cannot understand why his anger should be displaced away from the fascist to a liberal. This displacement comes from a strange working of the mind, he feels that there is “someone” who should protect him; women marry compulsively because they feel that they need a man around them for protection, minorities feel that someone needs to protect them. When they feel that the “someone” who could protect them is becoming weaker then they revolt by breaking free. But they do not break free to freedom but to greater vulnerability to violence as the fascists walk easy when liberals are removed. There is suicide in such an act of the minorities because so certain they are that the fascists will attack them and the liebrals will not save them because they are either indifferent or too formalistic to emerge out of the administrative rigidities of propriety to strike the streets in defence against physical violence that minorities often desire to take to armed militancy. Terror funders step in nicely here just as secession does.

There are then two theorems at work here; one is the utter dependence on the political machinery as though it were a feudal machinery, meaning that Muslims have not as yet emerged to citizenship from feudalism. The other is the overwhelming fear of violence upon them. This fear leads them to desire secession, enclosures of fundamentalism, conservative defence against the world to the extent of being denied its opportunities and to be relegated into the darkest hiding places. The movement into hiding, desire to destroy the “feudal lord” and to enter into a suicidal combat with the offender also constitutes the irrationality of fascism. No wonder then every Muslim is a terrorist at heart, there is only Pakistan in their soul and that they can never modernise into citizenship are proved true. Who proves them to be true? Is it not a fearful and an unreflective mind, a mind that cannot reason well? The question is, what is the sociology of such a mind? What conditions create thoughts? The answers to those will emerge into theories of fascism.

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Some Obituaries

That Saroj Khan will not live into her centenary was clear from her demeanour. She looked exhausted and harassed, puffed up in her face with a glassy glint in her eye and somehow communicated a feeling that somewhere the world to which she could have given so much was already full to the brim without needing her talents anymore. Irrelevance is the greatest cause of broken hearts and Saroj Khan died of a broken heart. It is not possible to understand the agony of her irrelevance without also gauging her enormously important talent.Saroj Khan emerged as an independent choreographer only in the 1990’s, the age of the jhankar beats. Before this, she worked through the 1980’s as assistant to star choreographers and choreographed many stars including Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha and Hema Malini. She lived and worked in post modern India, a India that revelled in the breaking off from roots and emerging into faceless individualism. These were also the years of the beginning of the Babri Masjid politics, the breaking of the monument literally bar binging an iconoclast era.

Bollywood changed as well, not so much in its philosophical discoveries but definitely in its look and feel as a strange etherealise descended upon its form. Amitabh Bachchan would say in some of his interviews of these times that the frames became too fast and the cuts very unexpected. To this tone of Bollywood, Saroj Khan’s style became a misfit. Here is why.Saroj Khan used to teach dance in a television channel which I followed closely. She would use her students as props and once again teach the steps of the very songs she had choreographed. The crux of her movements would use the movement of the limbs and the torso to express through symbols the lyrics of the song while the facial expressions would mimic the feelings. In other words, she made the body of the dancer a site for both the lyrics as well as the melody and the rhythm of the song. The dancer would be made to seem like the actor who carried the song exactly in this way. Saroj Khan used the conventional formula to let the body carry the song.We will get our point across very well if we are to compare her with another contemporary choreographer, the much younger Farah Khan. Farah taught some dance through the television as well. She would use the dancers body to express the beat of the song and hence the dancer bore no resemblance to the song’s lyrics or moods whatsoever. The song and the body were separated in the music composed since the 1990’s. That was considered to be the in thing and resented the new age while Saroj Khan looked an unmistakable retro.

The Saroj Farah tussle represented the inner tussle of Bollywood, which way to go, the mainstream formula with clear moral resolutions or the post modern vagueness with unresolved issues of morality. Saroj Khan thus stuck to the world largely receding, Madhuri Dixit, the last big star or Aishwarya Rai who played Umrao Jaan in the eponymous film or a Bipasha Basu’s Bidi Jalile.. Songs of nostalgic strains. Farah and her school was ascending in the world of alienated individuals mediated through the electronic manipulation of images, the rise of the narcissist rather than the self absorbed persons of Saroj’s mental world. Saroj Khan became irrelevant because of her understanding of the song as having emanated in the body, as a response of the body to the unfolding of the Universe, for that body no longer existed because the responses to the natural world is replaced by a mediated experience through the electronic stimulus of extenuated sound engineering.

Kader Khan

Kader Khan, New Year Day 2019Perhaps the only reason why I noticed Kader Khan was because he, and not Salim Javed was the dialogue writer of the movie, Amar Akbar Anthony. This movie by Manmohan Desai changed the destiny of Amitabh Bachchan, for were it not for this movie Amitabh would have been a great star but never the superstar that he rose to become. For me, an Amitabh Bachchan scholar, Kader Khan is important because of his bringing into language the character of Anthony Gonsalves. Before this, Amitabh Bachchan got his distinctive image through films like Zaneer, Deewar and Sholay, often studied as a trilogy of Salim Javed in which a hero was created overnight who broke out of the mould of the conventional wisdom of cinema to extend the horizon in all directions.

Crucial to Amitabh’s dimensions and intensity of appeal was the language in which the image spoke, literate, poetic, reasoned, intonated, loud and sharply articulated loaded with a well-defined philosophy that concerned justice and capitalist relations. Much of the hero’s image sprouted from his speech like the mythical Brihaspati, who speech or vach separated from a state of a mere Being into a state of Becoming and evolving. Salim-Javed’s wrote speeches that dynamized the hero’s image, evolving and transforming him through a recognition and an articulation of his experiences and helping him to organize and then to command the world. Speech was central to the hero who Salim Javed created. Amar Akbar Anthony was a different project for here the hero had to return to earth by getting embedded into its daily rhythms, mundane matters and small talk.

If Salim Javed’s hero had transcended his mundanity, Manmohan Desai’s hero found his home among the familiar everyday social life. If the hero graduated to a higher life in Salim Javed’s projects, he returned to his existential home in Manmohan Desai’s films. Without this return to balance his flight, Amitabh Bachchan could never have been the superstar that he eventually is. Kader Khan was the dialogue writer to have captured the phenomenological spirit within the ordinariness of life. This, to my mind is the genius of this college teacher of Civil Engineering who veered into the world of Bombay cinema.Writing for a character like Anthony Gonsalves could not have been easy. For here, unlike the series of Vijays of Salim Javed, the speech congealed into the persona of the hero instead of articulating a selfhood. Kader Khan’s speech writing was short and curt that embedded the speaker into his environment. Speech acts, like writing is differentiated and Kader Khan’s dialogues seem to have achieved exactly the opposite because these wove the characters together as beads in a set of interconnectedness. They all belonged to a family because they were speaking the same language, had the same goals and were moving together in a roundabout. The camera movement and the music of Amar Akbar Anthony has this roundabout sense, a horse drawn carriage, the roundness of the Easter egg shaped shell, circular staircases, the qawwali and the garlands and the eunuch songs support the circular movement of the ensemble of its dialogues. In Amar Akbar Anthnoy, Amitabh Bachchan and Manmohan Desai found a lasting bond and Kader Khan’s speech helped wax this union.I end looking up who Kader Khan was born as and what he became to step into the Hindi film. I read on the Internet that he was born an Afghan in Kabul, moved to Mumbai, then Bombay read and taught civil engineering. Civil engineering was a front running profession all through the 20th century and attracted the best brains in the country. But by the 1960’s, the profession stagnated, and the better students veered towards Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. The cream of civil engineers then expanded into creative areas, namely novelists, art commentators, film makers and later the urban Naxals in the 1960’s were civil engineers.

Kader Khan must have represented the spill over bright minds from civil engineering. The other interesting thing about Kader Khan was his nationality; originally Afghani and later Canadian. I wonder whether he ever was an Indian citizen. In a sense he forever remained an “outsider” and this may have given him a deep sensibility to the contrarian existential position of what it needed to be an insider. Possible. His being brought up an Afghani, if not a Kabuli helped him in yet another way, a way we are not much aware of and this is the innate instinct of Kabulis at making poetry. Even as early as Babur, wrestlers too were veritable poets, as the Emperor to be mentions in his memoirs, Baburnama. Much of Kader Khan was prolific and not always noticeably brilliant, unlike Salim Javed but his genius lay in his ability to immerse his characters into their milieu and in their togetheredness so that everything stood out together as a coherent work in the film. This was the spirituality of Kader Khan and hence also his genius.

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Fascism Talks 1 : Long Calls With K

K called up; I was busy and so I sent him a message saying that I will call later when free. He sent a bit of an apologetic message saying that he just wanted to continue the discussions of some issues on which our arguments were going on. His and my arguments will never end, for he intends to put forth a position to destroy mine, and I do the same too. No one has ever won an argument, so goes the adage.

K is better off than me, he is born into a business family, manufacturing something, I think so. Rare because Bengalis are more like me born to salaried fellows, government employees till a couple of generations back and corporate employees in my father’s. With the rates of interests on deposits in banks constantly running down and brains which have no time to study speculative financial markets after devoting to constantly acquiring professional acumen, we are being pushed steadily towards the nadir of our economic class. In this way, K and I are the same, I mean in being pushed down. For some reason his family was pushed out of manufacturing totally and now he seems to have taken a refuge in Bangalore. I suspect that he does not do much except to write in churlish English with long winded sentences telling us less and confusing meanings more, perhaps an angst that the world has failed him. He is educated in England, I think for he knows a lot about the inside ways of the English sophisticated classes and has some Members of Parliament among his family friends. My contacts have gone down like no one’s business, I barely find six people for registering a society.

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Dusting During Lockdown

Ever since the lockdown I have taken passionately to sweeping and mopping floors of my homes in Faridabad and Kolkata. I visualise and plan the best ways to do the turns of the rooms, which order must I sweep them so that the dust collected by my broom finds the easiest passage to the dust pan. I have also visualised the corners in which dust collects and how best to reach them through ways more innovative than ever. The results have shown, floors look clean and feel soft. After this mammoth activity, I use the mop to clean the grills and here in lies the tale that I will tell today.

The house where my parents live was built by my grandfather in 1960, the same year as my birth. Fortunately for everyone my father is an only child and the house did not need to go to the builder. My mother has maintained it really well and this is one area where she has never compromised on finances. The house thus remains much as it was, except some renovations to get me a room to myself after my brother got married and claimed more space in the house. This story is therefore to tell the readers that the grills on the Windows have not been changed. I dust these grills, as old as me everyday. They remain as usual glossy and sleek. These are those flowers with impossible curves so that if you clean these with ordinary cloth both the cloth and the skin on your fingers can meet the same level of bruises.

But when I do the same exercise of dusting the grills in my Faridabad home, the grills tend to rust. These grills are only 15 years old and modern, straight lined in geometric designs and are so much easier to dust. Curved lines tend to rust more than straight lines, and the curved ones are older than the straight ones by 45 years, or three life cycles of an automobile. Then what happened? The quality of steel has seen a drastic deterioration over the long term so much so that people no longer trust steel. The substitution of steel by plastics, the tendency to use no steel in constructing pucca houses, the ongoing popularity of wood and new research on alloys to replace mild steel are signs that people trust steel less and less. The overwhelming use of stainless steel in place of mild steel in rural India is a point in the case. We are having a lower quality of steel by the day.

Then I also discovered that the helps in both places left the bottom of the cupboards and the back of the chairs undusted and unswept. As soon as I took to the broom and the mop suddenly the floors shone in a manner that I did not know that they could. I realised soon enough that as much as I took pride in my activity, servants hated it. I do not remember that sweeping and mopping was so resented by our servants in our childhood. This morning when I discovered that I had a bruise in my forearm and could not remember where I could have hurt myself, the maid readily told me that I hurt myself when I was in the act of cleaning. I notice that servants in either place do not care to remove even a mat to sweep the floor clean, let alone remove furniture and I think that they fear that they will hurt themselves or they will be strained. The problem is that the present generation is not attentive enough to do sweeping and mopping any more. Cleaning needs mental focus, one cannot clean stuff until and unless one is mentally calm. India is unclean because most of its people are mentally agitated. The lack of calm that makes India unclean also is the underlying cause in producing poor quality of steel, the lack of focus.

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Last Lear – Rituparna Ghosh’s Thesis on Amitabh Bachchan

Many moons ago, my senior in Jadavpur University, now a eminent gender economist, was keen that Rituparna Ghosh who was a year senior to me in the class and I should become very good friends. I barely knew who he was except that he was a pretty boy, effeminate with a crop of curly hair and a nickel rimmed spectacle those which sat precariously on his nose bridge, being a bit too large for his face. I had no time to even notice this fellow busy as I was in campus politics and debates. Yet, the reason why my feminist senior insisted that we should be friends was because she felt that Ritu was a girl despite being born a boy and I was a boy despite being born a girl. In those days, contrary to my cultural legacy of the highbrow, I became a fan of Amitabh Bachchan and hence started watching Hindi films. Ritu, I now learn from his writings was out of Bollywood by miles. My interests in Amitabh Bachchan and my own surprise as t why I became a fan of a Hindi film star led me to pursue an academic career in sociology out of which I emerged with a MPhil and PhD but also with a theory of stars and the possibility of using these persona as texts for reconstruction of an era during which they lived and were loved. Ritu’s distance from Bollywood led him to revive the high culture of Ray, Sen, Tapan Sinha and in some instances even Aparna Sen and Ghatak. Then he returned, when he was older and less shy of himself to Bollywood,to Amitabh Bachchan, to whom he, I suspected was always attracted to but was too repressed to admit. In an interview I read long ago, Ritu said that one of his secret desires was to score a perfect 16 in KBC. So, he returned to touch his deep inner psychology in what turned out to be his last film, Last Lear.

Last Lear was Ritu’s thesis of Amitabh Bachchan. There was a palpable projection of himself on the star, who he imagined as one that ended his life and could now be accessed as a relic. It seems that this theatre artist long retired and is now sought again by a director who wishes to shoot a film on Shakespeare’s King Lear, a role the artist wanted to play but did not. However, the artist is injured and is bedridden after he tries to perform his stunts himself. Last Lear is a film about remembering his performance as an actor. I realized that Ritu stayed away from Amitabh because somewhere the masculinity of the image scared him; he must have thought in his mind that Amitabh if they ever met would disapprove of him. In the film Amitabh speaks poorly of homosexual men, Ritu’s self-infliction of wounds for his own guilt and inferiority complex. Now, in his matured years, with a body of extremely commendable work under his belt and Amitabh, sufficiently toned down and mellow without his scripts meet through the film, Last Lear, a role that is biographical, metaphorical and essential to the megastar of Bollywood.

Ritu captures the essence of Amitabh in his meticulous sense of ordering, his loyalties and commitments, his overpowering dominance, a tendency to bully, exactness of articulation, perfection in performance and the sheer force of personal presence. In these, he becomes like King Lear, one who is finally exiled and dies in the mercy of those who look after a maimed body long after his spirit dies. There are two women in the film too; one we may read as Jaya, because of the way the actress reacts and speaks and the other is Rekha, the actress who he mentors not merely in her craft but making her conscious that her craft needed to free her repressed emotions. Both women, suffer bad marriages when they come to him, and he provides them shelter and solace, respectively. This is the way Ritu looked at Amitabh, one past his prime, one left with little to live for except his personal habits, eccentricities, and quirks. And in this he moves into Amitabh’s personhood from his star persona. He explored the person carrying his proclivity of gossip to construct an image of the real-life Amitabh. This shows that Ritu was in awe of the man, approaching him only when he became less dangerous at the end of the journey, weakened a great deal with age, with his sharpness now coated with more grace.

Ritu has never been a philosophical person, not being able to graduate to larger world views out of what remains as personal struggle among his characters. As his classmate tells me that Ritu can never be a Ray because he is such a domesticated man, he can never get the global flavour of Ray. This mutual friend is not a film critic but has understood Ray very well. Ray used Amitabh only once and uncomfortable as he was with the star system used only Amitabh’s voice as the narrator in Shatranj Ki Khiladi. Ritu also used the very apparent and the visible parts of the actor, like Ray’s used Amitabh’s voice, Ritu used his personal habits. Both were advertising persons; they knew how to use the apparent stuff.

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15th September, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

Today is the birth anniversary of Sarat Chandra Chattpadhyay, the greatest novelist that India has ever known, perhaps the greatest in the world, if the impact factor is taken in. He wrote in Bengali and has been the world’s most translated author, perhaps after the Bible and such was the structure of his language that a Telugu reader thought that Sarat Chandra originally wrote in Telegu, or the Gujarati reader thought that the author’s mother tongue was Gujarati and so on. Hence, Sarat Chandra was also the most translatable of all authors. Regrettably, this aspect of the author, namely his semantics has not been studied adequately for us to learn why Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is so translateable? Why is the appeal of his language so universal? We get too hung up on the content of his stories, realizing little the role of the form, namely the language to carry the stories across regions and over generations.

I knew of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay through hearsay, then read his biography in Hindi by Vishnu Prabhakar and finally a sixty-four-part series published in Bengali in the weekly Bartaman. Most, if not all his stories are true episodes from his own life which he lived in northern Bihar. He represented the quest of a quintessential Bengali, that of a practitioner of culture as well as that of a traveller, vagabond, in his own words. Settling down nowhere and yet telling tales of settled people, Sarat Chandra wrote fanatically of individualism and this is why he chose to write so much about women as women, in his eyes were the most contained and controlled elements of the society. He was a feminist because he championed the cause of the creative individual, not particularly the romantic, but of the free willed ones, exercising a singular choice, and that of just to be. Perhaps this makes the author so universal.

Essential to Sarat Chandra is the Hegelian tragedy, tragedy born of the impossibility of existence of things which have been decided upon as being mutually exclusive. Bindu is only an aunt, she cannot be a mother to the child she loves so dearly. Ram is only a brother in law, contender to the inheritance of his widowed sister in law, Narayani and yet, instead of rivalry over property, Ram looks upon Narayani as the mother he never had and he, for Narayani is her first born child. The story of Mahesh, if voted upon could easily be the world’s most intense tragedies. Sarat Chandrian tragedy has constituted the tragedy of the Indian popular cinema of each region. The form and structure of the Indian popular cinema is Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay; those who do not fall into his form are considered as parallel cinema. This is an important fact to be noted and pursued when discussing the writer who could well be called as The Novelist like Aristotle is The Philosopher. Like his feminism, his tragedy is also individualistic, about individuals who unite on an emotional plane, irrespective of the roles and statuses they occupy.

It is due to the great emphasis of the individual, her freedom to be just her, which also makes him, according to his own description of himself, a vagabond that Sarat Chandra is modern, humanist, rational, secular, post-colonial, existential and universal and yet deeply rooted in the ethos of the Indian life.

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Indian Secularism

My friend Reshmi Bhaskaran asked us through her Facebook posting what secularism was? On the face of things, secularism, by its European definition would be the ineffectuality of religion in the affairs of politics and of public life since ideas of the Divine were to remain relegated strictly to the realm of the personal and the private. In India, secularism, which has had far longer a tradition than in Europe, usually meant equidistance from all religions. Parliament of religions which we frequently ascribe to emperor Akbar was, in fact quite the tradition in India.

Religious tolerance, tolerance of every faith and every creed was in fact quite an intrinsic part of a king’s dharma. Indeed, the cult of Jagannath launched by the great Ganga king Indradyumna at Puri is a veritable synthesis of all shades of beliefs, tribal, Vaishnav, shakes, Tibetan, Egyptian and even of Sri Lanka. Religious pluralism has been an essential component of good governance in historic india. IHow was such religious tolerance possible in India and for so long? Why was it necessary that every king worth his name would practice religious tolerance, plurality and equidistance? A possible reply for this is that religion never really mattered in the affairs of the state.

Religion was a cultural capital, cultivated as a matter of social refinement and not to govern the people. For governance, law and jurisprudence, India had its own dharma, a set of laws that were created purely on the basis of ideas of social equilibrium, or even perhaps of social status quo. A study of ancient and medieval law would give one an ample idea that principles of justice held equally for persons of all religion. In fact, it is only now that India does not have a uniform civil code.

The civil code, based on discourses of social equilibrium automatically relegated religion into the private sphere, though it may not have rendered it into a personal affair. Religious conversions often happened against social oppression, never in was close to empires, or to seats of power where the state was active enough to meet out justice to the aggrieved parties precisely on merits of hearing by a jury or even just a single judge. In short, India has always been secular even from the western point of view, because state and society were always separate, God belonged to society and the king to the state. These are my views.

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Detective and the Thriller

Culture, taste, literature/detective

Detective vs the thriller

Sociology of literary genres

August 2020

Last week I finished reading two books on the Amazon kindle, one was a detective story and the other one was a thriller. Women in their early 50’s wrote them and both hailed from similar backgrounds in terms of income, class, legacy, education and most importantly, caste. In fact, they also belong to the same family; the writer of the detective story is a daughter while the writer of the thriller is the daughter in law. Yet, the flavour of the books were different as chalk and cheese or what is the same thing as typical detective novels would differ from the genre of a thriller. The difference is crucial between the two and has interesting sociological ramifications.

The detective novel which I read, as the name suggests is part of a series called Cosy Mysteries which means that it has a sense of cosyness about it that comes from contentment, partly because one has things in abundance but this also means that there is desire for no further. The detective, a woman, like the author in her mid-50’s is a development professional, bound to her wheelchair for movement outside of her home and depends on a crutch to move about indoors. She loves food, cooks well, entertains guests, gardens a bit, loves to travel, and does a lot of that, visits cafes and read books. Though her movements are over long distances, such distances do nothing to her behaviour, she speaks, thinks, reacts, responds, and sleeps and eats the same way as she would were, she never to leave her cottage in Shantiniketan. In this novel I read, the detective travels to Shimla to solve a suicide which she thinks is murder.

The thriller involves huge travel. The protagonist is a young male, a NRI who flies down to inherit a kingdom on the death of a childless patriarch and to find himself in the midst of a family power rubric wherein lies the lust and the love, the romance and the vengeance as the title suggests. The hero behaves differently in his new milieu as he has been born and brought up in the USA, comfortable in neither space, the opposite of the cosy and couch feel of our detective series. The pace of the thriller is racy, as characters are darting here and there for purposes know only to the hidden agents at work. The characters in the detective novel follow routines rhythm of their daily chores and even if they are fazed by something or the other, they return The pace seems crazy especially as the protagonist is unfamiliar in his surroundings unlike the detective who seems to be comfortable in all worlds at all times. While the detective’s movement is through her mental faculties, observation, reasoning, collation, and inferences, as they take the reader through mental calisthenics of guessing the criminal. The movement in the thriller is physical; the mind does not move here because the mind cannot move owing to the unfamiliarity of the circumstances that the protagonist finds himself in. He spends the narrative spaces in absorbing the strangers in whose world he finds himself in in the face of adversities as well as opportunities. Women are falling over him; men are tugging at him as he negotiates spaces of a medieval architecture. The detective, on the other hand is never caught unawares in the regal Shimla building of the Institute of Advanced Studies. She belongs to modernity and hence encounters her familiar world which may have people she has never met but they are just as well from within her world.

The thriller is too medieval for comfort discovered by a post-modern young man, there is a sharp contrast between the too desi and the one shade too much of the NRI. The agitation of one with the other constitutes the drama that is resolved through the sleaze of physicality. The detective, on the other hand encounters restrained emotions and sharp reactions of the mind, dualities of modernity over reason and passion.

When an incorrigible sociologist like me writes on the two genres, obviously would mean that the above is meant to climb spaces of the social reality. The detective is the elite whose space in the society is assured; the cosyness comes from her command over time and outcomes of the use to which she puts her time into. This means that she commands adequate social and intellectual resources to be comfortable with herself. The thriller writer, like her protagonist is a little iffy, she does not feel secure in her social entity, edgy with fear of being examined by the people who she lives with, always finding herself in alien situations, overwhelmed by strange people breathing down her neck. In other words, the thriller writer has stranger anxiety. Her strangeness with her situation is expressed in the youth and the masculinity of her character, the detective’s comfort is expressed in her protagonist, middle aged woman slightly compromised in her physical movements.

I mention that both writers come from the same social background, then how do they experience their objective reality so differently to represent the world views of two different classes? The detective has always been the entrenched elite, explaining the essential cosyness and the mental acumen rather than the need for physical energy while the high physical energy of the thriller is a will to strive, to achieve, to span across spaces, from which she has been hitherto debarred. The detective stories have morals and ethics, thrillers have egos, physical brawls, competition, and the need to get ahead of others, through chase and race. Thrillers do not need well ordered spaces, for the crime to be committed, to be hidden and to be detected. The thriller is an aspiration, detective stories are leisure. The difference between the two authors thus does not lie in the state they are in but in the state they want to see themselves in and the gradient between the two; the length and the angle of the gradient between the two states is the aesthetic quotient of the thriller.

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Movie Making In The Mind… Suraj and Vikas Yadav

How Do We Watch Films? Vikas Dubey’s Death

On the 9th of July 2020, Vikas Dubey a dreaded gangster of Kanpur died in a police encounter. Weeks before he died, he killed eight policemen at point bank range when they raided his den of vice. As if in an act of revenge, the police killed him too in a supposed encounter, brought him dead to the government hospital in Kanpur and thus ended the life of Vikas Dubey. Now this drama was almost telecast live through the 8th of July 2020, which had Suraj, my 35-year-old domestic help glued to his mobile phone. Thoroughly excited with the dramatic encounter which involved the very city hospital in whose premises he was born and raised before he migrated as a casual worker for sundry jobs in Delhi. Suraj’s day was made, the episode charged him up, got all his nerves alert and excited and made him joyful in the daily the drudgery of the routine chores in our house. So, elated he was that the very same hospital in whose premises he stole mangoes, had his wounds dressed by an attending nurse, and had that surgery of his hernia by the resident surgeons, the very chowk at which one had to take a turn into the campus were not only the site of the drama but also beamed over in all the news channels. Suraj gathered every detail in his head of the encounter, from Vikas Dubey’s arrest in Ujjain, the spot where he was slapped by the police for saying that he was Vikas Dubey, Kanpurwallah, the spot where the accident was made to happen, namely in the overturning of the police car. In his mind, Suraj enacted every bit of the events, sometimes taking on the role of Vikas Dubey, sometimes the policemen, as he narrated and narrated the story, to us and his friends in the neighbourhood or discussed with his brothers over phone, he presented a solo drama, playing all the characters as they appear in the narrative and weaving the narrative tighter and tighter with each retelling.

Suraj manages to read the Hindi newspaper which we subscribe at home for him. He scanned the newspaper for each threadbare detail on the case. He devoured all the channels in YouTube to get as many details about Vikas Dubey. In his inspections he gathered details of how he married at the age of 20, love marriage, he underscored, how his children are studying abroad, how he emerged into the world of crime, how he planned kidnaps and ransoms, appropriation of land and properties and even fraud. Dubey, it seems had politicians and policemen in his pay roll as well. Next, he reads the news of how his mother shut herself up in her room after she received the news of the death of her son, Suraj now imaginatively fills in the emotions. I think that this is how we watch films.

Step One

Firstly, he gets charged by a movement, there is unusual movement in the rhythm of things. Why is it that Suraj gets charged and not I? It is fine to say that Suraj gets all excited with car chases and shoot outs because he is unlettered and uncultured, and I may get excited by discovering a new author writing on fascism because I am so erudite and elitist. Well, these differences are with us and cannot be used to explain an immediate and perhaps a short lived phenomenon; for there are many things those which invoke the same responses from Suraj and I, namely the Covid 19, the sorrow at the loss of our pet, and to outcomes to India’s performance in T20 matches. The immediate cause must be related to something in the phenomenon of immediate response, namely the event of Vikas Dubey’s dramatic encounter and death. To my guess, it must be the movement itself, the movement which is of a different beat to the beats of everyday life as it unfolds for Suraj. Suraj has a more anxious and agitating life than I do for he lives on far many more contingent parameters. Compared to my parents back in Kolkata I have a more agitating life because relative to them, the existential parameters for me are more uncertain and tentative.

Suraj lives in an overcrowded slum, struggles over water and his turn into the washroom, fights mice, ants, and lizards in his cramped room, faces frequent raise of rents and tuition fees for his children and lives at our beck and call. The rhythm of his life is high pitched, disharmonious, and high strung as compared to mine. My life is high strung with frequent power cuts and uncertain water supply, conflict over car parking as compared to that of my parents. My liberation lies in rhythms those are at a pitch higher than those I face at present, which would mean access to better quality of service deliveries. I vote for a government that promises “vikas”, not the Dubey, but genuine development. Suraj has no chance of a better life, for him the liberating rhythm would be a release of his tense nerves those which grow taut within constant confinement of his life, namely waiting for his turn in the washroom, fighting pests at home and so on. His emancipation lies in the release of his energy, which could be sports but then that needs social camaraderie which the poor do not have, nor access to playgrounds and far less the access to institutions which support sports. He would thus love the opportunity to be on the streets. The popular Hindi film, known as Bollywood these days has a lot of street in it where heroes chase and fight villains, romance heroines, ride on vehicles with wind in their hair. Here in the streets also grows the high drama, high decibel, fast movements, actions like shoot out resulting in the serious consequence of death. Such an ensemble of stuff presents a rhythm that Suraj, in his social condition finds redeeming and even relaxing. Suraj thus absorbs the rhythm of the events within his body as he mono acts the entire “play” of Vikas Dubey’s arrest.

In this he finds as most inspiring the fact that the “sets” of the drama are his very own. He immediately identifies with the film since he can ‘’enter’’ easily through the familiarity of the subject. The “film” has no “hero” he can identify with, no issues, he identifies with its “sets” which are the premises of his home in Kanpur. The identification is the “point of entry”.

Once he aligns into the rhythm and finds the identification, the two may exchange places or happen simultaneously, he is eager to set into his heads as many details he can and place them in a logical sequence. In the first few rounds of the retelling of the stories, he uses the details which are apparent in what is shown to him, namely through the news videos but as soon as he organizes them in a time sequence, he goes back into looking for details on Vikas Dubey’s biography, his marriage, children, parents and even childhood. His mind, now over with the initial excitement of the drama seems to settle down into the “research” mode in which he looks to collect details those which are not directly available or accessible to him; namely details of Vikas Dubey’s past.

Meanwhile he also taps on the prevailing emotions in the story, tragedy of the mother having lost her son, resignation of her family, the anger of the policeman, the villainy of politicians. Only after engaging with the possible emotions, Suraj concludes the story, Vikas Dubey killed. Then he emerges into the morality of the plot for without drawing a moral QED, the story does not end for him for he is sincerely a theist who believes that there is justice in this world, might not be for individuals but for the system as a whole. The bad men need to die. Didi, he tells me, Vikas Dubey had to die because he was immoral. But did Suraj really think that way? Was there not an admiration in his voice for the guy? His children study abroad, he said, with suppressed satisfaction, he has made a lot of money, again admiration and looked after his mother very well, deep respect. Yet, he had to be killed, fatalism as watching the antihero, acceptance of the consequences of the huge risk this man took in his life. Vikas Dubey, on further reflection started getting transformed from dangerous dacoit to a loving family man who gave up his own life for the comfort of his family, the ultimate sacrifice and heroism of a man in the Indian society. Suraj, like millions of men like him, feels the pressure of being a breadwinner, often the sole breadwinner of his family for even if wives and children work, their contribution is not a serious income, it is only man who is supposed to earn for the family. When opportunities of legitimate incomes are few and far between especially in societies with low education and high unemployment, avenues of upward mobility are often through illegitimate means. This sociology is the genesis of the antihero in Hindi films. Once Suraj finds a moral rationale for the death of Vikas Dubey, namely he had to die, he dwells on his personal attainments, his sacrifice, the emotions and even the other side of the question, that he was a brave and a brilliant man who finally achieved what every man dreams of achieve, a wonderful life for his family as members of the upper class. Vikas Dubey, now punished is over; what remains of Vikas Dubey is what Suraj is free to cherish, his persona, his being a perfect family man. Sounds so familiar to the last dialogue of the mother in Deewar where she hands over the gun with which the police will kill her son and says to herself, that as a mother she has punished the son, as a woman she will now go to her progeny; as a social being she has disciplined, as a natural being she will love. Ditto same for Suraj.

What we see then in the above story of Suraj, the making of a film audience, indeed a popular film, the low brow and the kitsch and not the high art for the high brow audience.

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Steel Authority of India Limited

SAIL was set up in 1954, on the 19th of January with head quarters in Kolkata. Born out of the Industrial Committee Report of 1951 led by Subimal Dutt, SAIL was to use public money to build capital where only a thin pool existed in India. India of the 1950’s was hungry, naked, ill and poor and only the government had the money to make capita expenditures. The idea was to lay down a broad industrial base producing basic goods upon which further investments using such basic and intermediate goods were to be hosted. Thus, was born the Steel Authority of India. Aligned with its power over capital, SAIL attracted the best of employees and since these employees were to run pioneering and new technology, these had to be the absolute best of professionals. SAIL paid very well, in tune with international standards, housing employees in plush bungalows, state of art hospitals, the very best schools with the best teachers, steel cities were islands of high living resembling self sufficient Greek city states, boundaries to cut it off from the land of indigenous tribes and enclosing within it, the best standards of urban dwelling.

Those who lived inside its premises, because of the high life they led and because at work they handled the best of machines, unknown to most of India, SAIL made the best steel in terms of quality, the most in terms of quantity and earned the highest in terms of profits. Like the cities the employees lived in, SAIL had its own coal, iron ore, limestone, and dolomite mines, it had its captive power plants and water supply system. SAIL survived in an island, wholly owned by it but which was a firm spot on which it stood to move the world. Those days were the days of SAIL. It was literally the sailboat to a bright future of India.

SAIL’s sail got a hole for the first time in 1964 when the Joint Plant Committee was constituted to orient the company to the market economics. It was as if Greece was being shadowed by Rome; the idyllic city states were now to be sewn together as an Empire. The Joint Plant Committee was born of the Raj Committee Report that sought to ‘decontrol’ the steel industry which meant that the surpluses those were earned by each company, namely Bhilai Steel Plant or Rourkela Steel Plant would be used by the respective plants to expand their capacities and produce more steel. The years starting with 1964 were bad years for the Indian economy yet steel demand seemed to increase on pressures of urbanization; some shifts were taking place as population was moving from the villages to cities and in increasing numbers. The JPC put its finger on the first step of decontrol, namely the price. It allowed companies to charge their own prices; and to prevent them from charging high prices which they could have because of the oligopolistic nature of steel production, the JPC devised the famous price formula. By this formula, parameters of efficiencies were demarcated and “fair costs” calculated with a mark-up. Therefore, only the efficient firms could make profits and expand. Clearly the Bhilai Steel Plant and Bokaro Steel Plant expanded while Durgapur and Rourkela did not. The pricing spread to semis as well as all mill products.

While expansions would be made from profits, yet one would have to be careful about the demand of the mill products. JPC started collecting end user data and forecasting demand based on such demand. Integrated mills do not have significant flexibility of product mix and thus the demand was first disaggregated and then divided up across all mills so that every mill had a fair chance to optimally use their plant and machinery. This exercise was done by the Economic Research Unit, or ERU that was set up in 1983. ERU ran a grand model of optimization based on the linear programming and its first recruits were not economists but operations research persons. Economics came in much later, to the best of my memory only after 1997, post the Asean meltdown. Before that cost accountants and technical persons had a far greater say in matters of the ERU.

Under the JPC system and more so under the ERU, SAIL was opened to the surgical lights of analysis in terms of stuff those threatened its exclusive ensconce within the walled cities. Much of its autonomy was compromised, not because someone took it away, but because every decision of it was to pass through the JPC system, into the Ministry and then if the company was lucky, these were approved without further loops once more into the ERU. Most of the JPC personnel were respectful of SAIL as many came to the JPC system through SAIL, but one could never rule out the rude cost accountant, the arrogant operations person and the disdainful technical guy, and one negative comment could sour SAIL’s confidence because the management stood upon sensitive humans under a sheltered environment. Few realized that SAIL was aristocratic, it could function only when its exclusiveness was assured. SAIL was not trained to face rough weather; if one wanted it to perform one had to give it the assurance that its superiority would not be challenged.

Unfortunately, in 1991, SAIL was completely punctured as was divested of its exclusivity as the economy opened to private capital. SAIL was construed as being inefficient, slow, and slothful only because it was in the public sector. Discourses in the media, in the mind of the people, among politicians and in the Ministry, SAIL was discredited because it was in the public sector. All of us systematically exercised to damage the confidence of the company, or literally to take the wind out of its sail. Despite the hostilities around it, it is only SAIL which has consistently performed in a steel industry given to unsold stocks, excess capacities, and mounting debts in the form of the NPAs. It is not a matter to set aside that the steel industry leads the economy in NPAs especially it is supposed to be an industry promised to grow by 300%!.

As the private sector mindlessly pursued capacity expansions, SAIL held on its own ground, adding less and less of gadgets and kept its nose on routine production. When the lockdown happened, SAIL was thus positioned to be the only company that survived the flight of the workers. When life limped back again, SAIL was the only company that could resume production for its integrated supply system and resident employees. Also, being within a city, it could keep itself protected from the pandemic. When the waters started to recede, it could fire furnaces in no time. That is the beauty of the company and that is the worth of the public sector. SAIL is founded on solid ground with solid staff; its workers live in the steel city, their needs are met by the steel city, they don’t leave the plant and can swing back to production where others have to fight the flight of workers. SAIL does not need to be flashy, nor flighty, nor showy in buying and selling of steel facilities across the globe, it does not need to straddle continents in search for strategic acquisitions of minerals; instead SAIL can just focus on its work and deliver astounding profits just like the one it has done right now. SAIL needs respect and give that to the company, it will flourish.

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