The Free Speech Cycle

Like with everything else in India, we have a way with our own style of discourse with regards to journalism and free speech, something that is as unique as a BJP supporter’s unrequited love for Narendra Modi which turns into multiple orgasms instantly (especially if he were to appear on the cover of a Time Magazine, you know) or  Viveik Oberoi having to claim in an interview that his wife is simple and down-to-earth, and doesn’t behave like a star’s wife. Because she probably isn’t one. But maybe that just skipped Oberoi’s mind.

Following Mint Candyman Aakar Patel’s outrageous diatribe attempting to Draw Something (I used that app and I guess the answer here is ‘Dividing Line’) between the North and South of India, the internet (and by internet, I mean Twitter and Facebook) erupted into fury with several Facebookers calling for petrol purchased from the state of Goa to be unleashed on Patel’s house in (where does he live?). Twitter, in particular, was gracious in awarding Patel the title of the World’s Most Annoying Troll given that he has written provocative pieces before too. They’d awarded him Most Annoying Troll before, but this North-South article just nudged them to add the word ‘World’s’ to the award. Also, nobody noticed that he would’ve got much more fame if the URL of the article was smart enough to incorporate the word ‘South’ in it. For that, Mint owners should probably just take the newspaper’s IT guy to a Roadies audition.

Not long then, before Mint Editor-in-Chief stepped in and tweeted something so pathbreaking-ly predictable that this changed the blood flow of humans and the retweets flow of everything else (including bots in bikinis). Because this is when India’s ‘Free Speech Cycle’ came a full circle. This is generally what happens, all the time. A provocative piece is published which people read and outrage between themselves. Soon, somebody steps up to quote what Voltaire (or Evelyn Beatrice Hall) once said thereby making him shudder in his grave yet one more time. Soon, there is a complete change of the flow and people will start waking up and agreeing that YES YES THERE EXISTS A RIGHT TO PUBLISH! That tweet gets torn to shreds with people either +1-ing it, or adding “TRUE!” or “This ->” before it.

Towards the end of the Free Speech Cycle, all that remains is for those who haven’t read the article in question yet to do so, like turning up late at a Suhel Seth party and having to do with the leftovers. The rest of us live to die another day, and will all get back to washing-rinsing-repeating before we even know it, because that’s what we do best. Soon, it’s sunset and everybody looks forward to alcohol, football on TV or sex (the general rule is that you only get to have two of the three, not all three at once).

The Free Speech Cycle is India’s greatest contributing factor to all the free time in the world that her people have (and no, Pratibha Patil spending 205 crores on foreign tours or the Indian military’s lack of preparedness to fighting even Sri Lanka in a non-nuclear war are not real problems), and is now a part of our national ethos. Like Kamaal R Khan’s kiss-tweets and Kapil Sibal waking up in the middle of the night at any mention of the words ‘Let’s censor’. So coming to the really important part – The question this article (this one, that you’re reading right now) poses is that the Free Speech Cycle notwithstanding, how does one get to have all three of alcohol, football on TV and sex on the same night?

Asking for a friend.


England for Prime Minister!

The talk of the town in India (and by ‘in India’, I basically mean Twitter and Facebook) over recent weeks has been more or less surrounding homosexuality and wayward uttering in relation to that by the Ministry of Home Affairs (later withdrawn, may have been unsaid, let’s leave it to speculation) and the Supreme Court. That is if, unlike me, you choose to discount Kapil Sibal’s literally-hefty presence at the 2012 World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

Following the Delhi High Court’s move towards decriminalization of homosexuality, most spoken words not toeing the line of the High Court are (rightly) demolished and thrown to street dogs. However, I must draw India’s attention to a more urgent decriminalization that needs to be paid heed to, in retrospect. It is something that has gone unnoticed for years, and it is already threatening communal harmony.

People who don’t support one of Manchester United/Chelsea/Arsenal/Liverpool, the England national football team and the English Premier League.

Apart from pervasive poverty, widespread hunger, eye-reddening/lung-wrenching pollution, disastrously poor and blindingly un-improving standard of living, faltering infrastructure, limited edition Mountain Dew neon packs which Salman Khan puts to use during power cuts in Bombay, Poonam Pandey in a saree and other indicatively obnoxious things life can offer us, India suffers from the malaise of a fanatical fanbase of people that strictly, as if part of a secret code, supports one of the four ‘top’ English football clubs only, especially Manchester United, despite knowing microscopically little about the game of football or holding an interest as passionate as browbeating in an expensive sports bar just because your Dad or your friend with a wealthy Dad or your girlfriend with a wealthy Dad can pay for your drink. And mind you, this fanbase is multiplying faster than right-wingers can crack yet one more poorly-constituted “RSS is responsible, hehehaha” joke and laugh amongst themselves and retweet it between their Twitter accounts.

If there’s one thing India is excelling in producing more than engineers without girlfriends and MBA graduates with Arindam Chaudhuri’s blessings, it is fans of these four football clubs. It is imperative that somebody from the UPA Government steps up (except Suresh Kalmadi, because he’ll just make lakhs out of it all) and decriminalizes people who don’t support an English football club and the England national team and give them a chance at living like a proud-free-democratic-BharatMata-worshipping (but not necessarily Juan Mata) Indian. In fact, a popular joke goes like this – A guy who knows nothing about football enters a sports bar on a matchday, orders a drink, sits in a corner and observes quietly for 10-15 minutes. “Dude, which club do you support?” “Manchester United, bro”. Okay, this joke is yet to gain popularity. But you get my point, no?

Like all fundamentalists who leave clues, it is not too difficult to sense a pattern here. It’s got to be a Top Four English club, logically followed by the world’s greatest national team, the England national team and all-round gaga-googoo-ing over the world’s greatest football league, the English Premier League. Like monstrous Indian trucks that consistently honk ringtones of old Hindi film music, with ‘Horn OK Please’ and ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ written behind them. Of course because, the rest of the world is just foreign. England, English and everything related is home. Or at least gives a feeling of ‘home’. Except, not really. Say a word against this pattern and expect a reaction that oversized Mayawati statues and die-hard Bahujan Samaj Party-themed-inner-garments-wearing fans would give you if you were giving an anti-Mayawati speech in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh.

India must call for a special post-Winter-pre-Summer Parliament session that decriminalizes people who don’t support English football clubs, before power groups endorsing the cause, call for a clause to be inserted directly into the Constitution of India. Given how the ‘reasonable restrictions‘ clause on freedom of speech is the most ambiguous thing to happen to India since Kalyan Singh’s politics, a pressure group may be just what it takes to make supporting a non-English football club illegal on Indian territory (for now, this doesn’t include Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, sorry). While this requirement may not be as old as the archaic Section 377 clause, it still calls for urgent implementation before all the streets in India are painted either red, red-and-white or blue (89% complete, according to unconfirmed statistics). Before it becomes necessary that to be an Indian, one must support a top-four English team, the England national team and the English Premier League in that particular order, the Government has to make a move.

Just like how living in Gujarat comes with a pre-condition to go numb in admiration of the state’s uber-popular and cannot-do-any-wrong Chief Minister (and lesser Gujaratis like myself have to go on a trip to Daman or Diu to breathe fresh air), living in India comes with an absolutely streamlined pre-condition of supporting one of these top four English clubs. Because c’mon, can you afford to not be a part of the ‘crowd’? Obviously not. Like this guy who once said “Dude, supporting Arsenal suddenly made the anti-social in me disappear. People found me so much more acceptable!”. “If we as a herd end up in a Manchester United sports bar, then that is our democratic right!!”, screamed a guy outside a Manchester United sports bar, who was so drenched in red color that it appeared as if he was a walking advertisement for Asian Paints.

And this is true from my personal experiences too because I’ve had fanatics hold me at gunpoint, threatening to drag me to the nearest Passport Office since I made the mistake of revealing to them that I do not support an English club. They let me go after saying “You are a very strange Indian!”, after I fooled them into believing that I’ll have to stay alive as I’m the guy responsible for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Twitter account, which as we speak is busy solving the nation’s umpteen problems. Go ahead then, India. And do what is required. Or at least, care to give the rest of your people a minority quota in an IIM or something. If the UPA just sits back and watches the action unfold as has been happening for the past two decades or so, then they might just have a new rival the Indian people might prefer over Rahul Gandhi.

England for Prime Minister!

The PMO on Twitter

It’s been rather relieving ever since the Prime Minister’s Office decided to improve upon its work so far, and finally decided to step up on delivering effective governance to a yearning country by doing something so unforeseen, so unique, so pathbreaking, so example-setting, so sewage-pipe-auto-clearing-of-disease-carrying-rats in nature.

They opened a Twitter account.

Naturally, I found myself browsing Twitter Search (How-To guide) looking to monitor interaction between the aam aadmi (who exists on Twitter, yes!) and the PMO. I was keenly interested in finding out how the aam aadmi conveyed his grievances to the Prime Minister, and also wanted to know if the Prime Minister actually replied and took action upon those grievances.

Unexpectedly, I was overtaken by the flood of requests directed towards the @PMOIndia handle. Clearly, India had taken this new initiative quite seriously. Most expressed genuine concerns like asking him the direction to good drinking water. To which, the PM replied “Dude, I can only take you to the pond but I cannot make you drink water from there..”

Others merely asked him how his vacation was in Goa, hoping they would get a Twitpic in return of the Prime Minister by a pool with two women in bikinis nearby, like Shahid Kapoor’s #ShahidGoanCrazy birthday bash that involved such a humungous amount of puking which saw Goa sullied to such an extent that desperate teenagers in their final college years, ND Tiwari and his troupe and Amar Singh and Bipasha Basu bombarded Shahid’s Twitter account asking him to clean up the mess immediately or they will unleash Ranbir Kapoor’s attempts at stand-up comedy on him. Or Pappu Yadav.

Meanwhile, a mysterious Swamy Army – which at first I thought is a support group of some sort for Subramanian Swamy and features anybody who has ‘ANTI-CONgi, Flying Sickularist, Underwear-outside-wearing Nationalist, #PaidMedia Creetik’ or something like that in their Twitter bio – decided to go threadbare and launched a out-and-out-attack on the PMO Twitter account by declaring it to be the most boring Twitter handle in the country. Clearly, the Swamy Army has never opened a tab on Google Chrome and visited Shah Rukh Khan’s Twitter account. Moving on to some positives, others decided to congratulate the Prime Minister on coming up with stringent traffic fines. But the way the message was conveyed to the PMO makes you wonder if you’ll have to bribe the guy to explain in proper English what the message meant.

Several others decided to take up national causes with the Prime Minister. Like this guy. Clearly, his commitment to pursuing a Padma Vibhushan award for Sridevi is on par with a Chennai rickshawallah’s commitment to extracting maximum auto fare from you. He is warning the Government to WAKE UP, just like esteemed scholars have warned the Government to wake up and deliver infrastructure and good roads to those areas of our country that border with China. More importantly, I don’t think he understands that the value of the Padma is so poor currently in Indian society, that Padma should be applying to win a Sridevi award.

It is heartening to see the Prime Minister on Twitter, tweeting away like the rest of us and attempting to solve the problems that refuse to leave our country. Continue tweeting your problems, hopes, aspirations, needs, requirements, blood donation requests, house hunting without brokers, discounts on wholesale condoms, restraining order on Vilasrao Deshmukh’s requests at hosting any more lavish weddings for his sons etc etc.

There are only so many ways he can help you.

<This is me, on Twitter>

FirstPostic Journalism

Over recent times,  web news portals like FirstPost have emerged as popular destinations for news junkies seeking to know whether Raj Thackeray spoke in Hindi when he visited Gujarat to meet NaMo (not my way of writing Narendra Modi, but a borrowed popular style of writing his name) or whether it was Aishwarya Rai who delivered Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai’s baby.

FirstPost is that thing that comes in between TV/newspapers and news websites like Times Of India or The Hindu or one of them (if the other brings it down through a series of advertisements). It’s like a third category, like how Apple created a third category when bringing in the iPad as an in-between to the iPhone and the Macbooks. Also like how my Mom created a third category called STUDY between SLEEP and FOOTBALL when I was growing up. Okay, probably not that. It’s not this or that, but it’s got a little bit of both this and that. The thing about FirstPost is that it is not a regular, unbiased news portal because of the way you would read what they tweet.

Lately, FirstPost and ESPN Cricinfo have begun to offer opinion or satirize writing when it comes to tweeting. You’d think they are a ‘neutral’ medium, but they aren’t. FirstPost is irritatingly in-your-face with hashtags. It’s so extreme with hashtags diarrhoea that you’d imagine emails between FirstPost staff to go something like this:

Dear XYZ, send me a copy of your draft for the post on Mayawati. #SENDNOW #DONTFORGET #BOSSWILLCUTYOURBALLSOFF #ELEPHANTS

Hey ABC, do you want to go on a date with me on Valentine’s? #VALENTINESDAY #PRAMODMUTHALIK #VIAGRASTILLWORKS

Apparently, FirstPost recently tweeted “#Finally, there’s news on a news-dry day” in the wake of the attack on the Israeli diplomat in Delhi. I wonder if too much opinionizing leaves any space for even basic sense, forget sensitivity. They did move to apologize in a while, but by then that tweet had been retweeted way too many times, good enough for even Shahid Kapoor to learn the spelling of ‘news-dry’ from the tweet. Just so that he won’t go out and spell it as juice-fry.

Of course, if a website can get CNN-IBN journalist, political liberal democrat, author Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, mother of two teenagers and HT columnist Sagarika Ghose to do an incisive analysis on how clothes matter in politics (Who knew! Oh wait, Shivraj Patil did.), then it can certainly tweet scatterbrained bullshit straight out of a Dummys Guide To Being Dumb.

Fantastic journalism. FirstPostic journalism. #WELLDONE. #KEEPITUP. #BUTBESENSIBLE.

<On Twitter>

13/7–A Perspective

A few thoughts, following yet another terrorist attack on the city of Bombay.

1) An Indian reaction is overdue. It doesn’t matter if it has been 30 months or 10 years since we were struck by terror strikes. But it is high time India’s leaders understand that the buck really stops here. Two decades of suffering and loss of innocent lives cannot be put away under the carpet without a reaction that raises our dispirited levels, which are currently at an all-time low. The cycle of terror is currently unstoppable and we are all sitting ducks, waiting for that bomb to go off.

2) Yes, there has been improvement in India’s immediate reaction to attacks. The Home Minister was wise enough to not speculate which terrorist group was behind the blasts that killed 17 and injured over a hundred others. This helps avoid alerting the actual group that may be responsible for these vicious attacks. As of now, no group seems to have claimed responsibility and this blogger will also refrain from speculating who might be responsible.

3) News channels and newspapers have disappointed in their scramble for rating points, with gory images doing the rounds in both of these mediums. With the odd exception, most media sources crossed lines and it is unlikely they will ever learn when to respect the dead. Especially, given the way in which these lives have been lost.

4) While we await an official Indian reaction, it is distressing to note that the government admitted to having absolutely no intelligence prior to these attacks. One would expect that given the scale of the attacks in Mumbai less than three years back, India’s intelligence services would have learnt the lessons of failure and improved drastically. Instead, we were treated to question-mark faces. And these are the faces that are supposed to answer our questions in the first place.

5) Twitter, significantly more than Facebook or any other  form of social media, played a heart-warming role in circulating information, aiding the search for missing people and in general, spreading awareness. The idea of creating a spreadsheet listing down all the people capable of delivering help of several kinds stood out. Obviously, Twitter is incapable of helping actual on-ground operations, but it’s importance cannot be understated given how spreading information during a crisis is absolutely desirable. The occasional misleading/erroneous information aside, most of it is generally intended to be useful. I am not sure or qualified to comment if it helped emergency response systems on the ground, if there were any at all.

6) At this point, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP leader Narendra Modi have stressed the importance of unity. In my opinion, this misleads us. People are not empowered to do much, apart from the usual outrage and creation/circulation of public opinion. It is the leaders at the top who are supposed to make critical decisions that is supposed to justify why they were elected to be there in the first place. A mere statement like “India will not tolerate this” never saved our souls. Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has proved himself to be a top-notch humbug of a leader by claiming that the UPA has thwarted 99% of terror attacks, but 1% of attacks do get through. On what mathematical basis he has managed to come to this conclusion is sense-defying, and makes you want to pull your hair out. This is all the more worrying because this man is almost certain to take up India’s top job, come 2014.

In essence, it is disappointing, depressing and bewildering that yet another terror attack has managed to shackle up the Indian mainland and caused the loss of yet more innocent lives. It was supposed to be a perfectly normal day, with people going about their usual routines.

And suddenly, there came deafening sounds and blinding lights. And some blood.

Losing The Plot

You thought it was a Baba Ramdev special. But err, no.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who once famously suggested we Indians watch TV instead of having sex at night in our innovative one-of-its-kind solution to our population ‘problem’, has said that homosexuality is a ‘Western disease’ and needs to be ‘cured’. Apparently, it’s not Indian. It’s also unnatural. The difference between Azad and Ramdev is that Azad is a direct representative of the Indian people and his views do a lot more damage than Arrow Baba incessantly repeating his medico-spiritual blah-blah on what homosexuality is or isn’t.

The statements have, as expected, received coverage in the foreign press. This does us no good and re-inforces India’s binding with archaic and uber-conservative medieval-era beliefs. The Health Minister seems bereft of rational advice and random sprouting of such public statements is what has actually helped create the Congress of today. This cannot be expected of a leader of a ministry so critical to the widespread acceptance of homosexuality in India.

Sadly, public statements in India are hardly ever well-thought out or researched. The power levied on to a person tends to create a misunderstanding in the mind that thinking can end, simply because the authority is that person himself. If such ignorance becomes commonplace, then India’s leaders are likely to match the views of non-thinking commoners or even groups that drive any agenda. Especially, the anti-gay ones. What one needs at this point in time is caution.

And add tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality to the mix, too.

SlutWalk And Liberal Aberrations

In succession to the grand marches being held across the world,  New Delhi will host India’s very own Slutwalk. The idea of Slutwalk focuses on the belief that women have the right to wear what they want. As this Hindustan Times news piece says, women must claim their right to be sexy without being subjected to being called ‘sluts calling for being raped’. It is entirely understandable that the use of the word ‘slut’ is in poor taste. There is no doubting that.

Rape is one of the world’s most despicable crimes. So unfortunate are man’s urges, that they stand to ruin (in many cases) the life of those women who subjected to rape. Societies, the world over, must focus on providing maximum assistance to women subjected to heinous crimes like rape or torture. Instead, we pull the same old rabbit out of our magic hat of potential solutions – symbolism. Again, I must make a point here that women have the right to wear what they want, and irrespective – nobody has a call there, as it borders on subjugation of individual freedom. Moreover, it goes with the thought stream that people don’t know what’s good for them.

So, evidently, liberation is a great thing. Standing up for liberal values in a democracy, equally important. However, the problem lies with symbolism. The phenomenon of symbolism makes news once in a while, largely tends to create a lot of inconsequential hype and mostly ends up in the graveyard of public memory. The usual routine is followed – Twitter activism and retweets, Facebook pages and the Like button, TV studio coverage that creates the typical feel-good surrounding such events and email forwards coming from all directions, asking people to come out, take a walk and ‘be heard’.

The problem is the lack of solutions that such events bring out. It is classic Indian symbolism, that is becoming all too typical now. We ‘feel’ we have done a lot, but in reality we haven’t done anything significant. Symbolism, as we have seen with the Pink Chaddi and Pink Condom campaigns in the past (remember them?), does not solve the problems surrounding the oppression of women, crimes like rape and murder (a crime which follows rape in so many occasions). The need for better policing, rejection of ‘ultras’ and action against those engaging in these crimes is the need of the hour. And SlutWalk cannot bring these to the table, can it?

There is a strong need for understanding liberalism at it’s core. Mere raising of sound levels and generation of massive hype across civil society creates one more event that comes along and will be forgotten. What about working at the ground level? Are we doing that? What is the point of distant symbolism that may bring a smile to the face of a woman who has been subjected to rape, but does not improve her condition in any way whatsoever? Let us ask ourselves. What is the point of our activism? The point is action, followed by results. And why are we engaging in such symbolism? Simply, because it’s easy. And it’s fun, too.

It is the ability to research and implement solutions, that is difficult. And precisely that, is what is the need of the hour.