Thank you Ayn Rand

There is one thing I regret, more than anything else in the world. It’s that Ayn Rand died years before I was born. This post should have been a mail to her. These words are for her.

For those of you who’ve never heard of/never read Ayn Rand’s books, let me give you the short version. She created the philosophy of Objectivism, which says that life is real, we are what we make of ourselves, and that guilt is evil.

Hers is the philosophy of selfishness. Selfishness, admiration and respect and love of the self, is good. The only possible goals a man can work towards are his own. The only possible ideas a man can live by are his own. The only possible life a man can live is his own.

Most people never understand this, because common wisdom encourages selflessness and charity. But if you don’t assume blindly that selfishness is evil, you realise it’s the only way you can work hard at your own goals, gain your own successes, and be happy without feeling guilty that there are others in the world not as happy as you.

I wouldn’t have got it myself. I just wouldn’t have thought of it at all. I’d have felt the guilt. Because yeah, there are things I could do to improve the world and others’ lives. There are things anyone can do. Any person willing to live for others can do good for them in the short term.

But forget about the long-term negatives; the reason I don’t do those things is because I don’t want to. I want to live for myself. That is my priority, always has been. So in the era before Ayn Rand, as it were, there was a lot of guilt.

This is appreciation, and it will be a long post, since I have a lot to appreciate here.

The short version is, very simply: Ayn Rand, THANK YOU.

My parents are rational thinkers. They introduced my brother and myself to Ayn Rand through The Fountainhead when I was barely into my teens. Her novels saved me from a life of perpetual confusion.

I’ve always known that certain beliefs are wrong, and some are right. Yet I’m told that all beliefs hold equal value. I’ve always known that what I make, what I create, what I write, what I own, is MINE. Yet I’m told that all property is theft, that my primary duty is to help the less fortunate, that even art is a blessing from the unknown. I have no particular objection to charity, but surely my primary duty is to creating value for myself, not for others.

It is hard when the world tells a child things that directly contradict what she believes (reinforced by my parents’ beliefs – they were never a part of “the world”, which is part of why I love them so much). It was even harder when I decided I was blindly accepting what my parents said and decided to consider every thought that came my way. That was when I heard of “If the majority believes it, it’s true.”

I was a kid. I didn’t know what to do. If the majority thought that socialism was the right way for India (not that I put it in so sweeping a scope then) then maybe they were right.
It took me quite a while to get over that phase. But when I was around thirteen, I think (not that I made a note) that I first read The Fountainhead.

The world changed.

It changed again when I read Atlas Shrugged, when I read John Galt’s speech right at the end, when I read Ayn Rand’s essays, when I had the words to express exactly why I was so worried at the way the world was meandering, and what I should do, for my part.

Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And I like who I am today.

Which is why I say, Ayn Rand, I wish you were alive today. Because it’s just dumb to say that “wherever you may be, I know you’re listening” (since the very concept of life beyond death, or any other supernatural phenomenon associated with HER, is – well, it’s sacrilege, really), but I do wish you could hear me say: THANK YOU.

Posted in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Fountainhead, Objectivism, Philosophy | 14 Comments

Preliminary Response to Standing Committee Deliberations

This is a mail I received by virtue of being on India Against Corruption’s mailing list. Reproduced for your reading, with no commentary whatsoever. They’ve already said it all, really.

The issue of the Lokpal Bill is before the Parliamentary standing committee. The reports filtering out of the committee’s discussions are a cause of concern for the following reasons:

a) Anna suspended his fast in August on the basis of a resolution passed by the Parliament of India which was termed as ‘Sense of House’ by some people but was referred to as a ‘resolution’ by the Prime Minister in his letter to Shri Anna Hazare. This resolution clearly stated that three issues would be addressed through the Lokpal Bill namely: Lokayuktas in states would be created through the same bill, and lower bureaucracy and citizens’ charter would be included in the Lokpal bill. However we are surprised that contrary to that resolution, the government proposes to exclude the citizens’ charter and lower bureaucracy from the Lokpal’s jurisdiction and bring a weak and ineffective bill to deal with citizens’ grievances.

b) Exclusion of Group C and Group D employees from the jurisdiction of Lokpal: It is being reported in the media that the jurisdiction of Lokpal would be confined to Group A and Group B employees of Central Government only and the jurisdiction of state Lokayuktas would be confined to Group A and Group B employees of that state Government only. Lokpal/Lokayukta would not have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of corruption against Group C and D employees. We strongly oppose this for the following reasons:

1. If Group C and Group D employees are excluded then would this mean that they could indulge in corruption and they would not be investigated by any agency? Aren’t we giving them a license to indulge in corruption?

2. It is being argued that their corruption would be investigated by CVC. This is misleading because firstly, CVC has jurisdiction only over Group A employees. Secondly, CVC is an advisory body. Thirdly, CVC is not a police station and hence does not have power to register an FIR or conduct criminal investigations. Fourthly, CVC does not have the necessary financial and human resources (it just has a staff strength of 230 employees). Therefore, it is misleading to say CVC would investigate allegations of corruption against Group C and Group D employees.

3. The common man has to deal with Group C and Group D employees on a daily basis. Lakhs of people who participated in this anti-corruption movement wanted a solution to this day-to-day corruption. If Group C and Group D employees are excluded, where would the common man go and report his day-to-day corruption?

4. Some people say that there is hardly any scope for corruption at the level of Group C and Group D employees. This is incorrect. Inspectors who are infamous for indulging in corruption are Group C employees. It is the Group D staff which is notorious for stealing critical files from government organizations. So where would all these cases be reported? Which agency would investigate all these cases?

5. In each state, maximum corruption takes place at the level of Group C and Group D employees. Almost Rs 30,000 crores worth of ration meant for poor people is annually siphoned off by Group C and Group D employees. Thousands of crores of leakage takes place in NREGA works at the level of Group C and Group D employees. Panchayat secretary and panchayat officials are Group C and Group D employees. Huge amount of corruption takes place in panchayat works. Who would investigate all this corruption?

6. It is being claimed that Lokpal/Lokayukta institutions would become unwieldy if all employees are brought under their jurisdiction. This is wrong. Firstly we need to appreciate that India is a large country with 120 crore population. Therefore it has a large bureaucracy. Central government itself has 60 lakh employees (including PSUs). Group A and Group B employees put together are less than 3 lakhs. So should we allow the other 57 lakh employees to keep indulging in corruption and not provide any systems against their corruption? This is completely unacceptable to us. By international standards, you would need a total staff strength of 30,000 people in Lokpal to check corruption of 60 Lakh employees. A central government department consisting of 30,000 personnel is a middle size department. It is not such a big department. Most of the central government departments like Railways, Post Office, Defence, Income Tax etc are much bigger than this size. So why are we getting overawed and overwhelmed by this sized Lokpal?

7. It is being alleged that if Lokpal started investigating small cases of corruption then big fish would go scot free. This is wrong. Lokpal will have to create its work systems in such a manner that its normal staff spread across the country would handle smaller cases of corruption. Lokpal could create special units to deal with high level corruption. These units could be directly monitored by Lokpal members. This is how CBI and Income Tax department presently function. CBI has regional offices to deal with smaller corruption but has a few Special Investigating Units in Delhi for high level corruption. Likewise, ordinary income tax officers spread across the country deal with lower income tax payers. But income tax department has separate investigation wing and special commissioners to deal with high level tax evaders. If income tax department can check the tax evasion of more than 3 crore tax payers, then why can’t Lokpal check corruption of 60 Lakh central government employees? In the case of states, the total number of employees is even smaller. The number of all employees including Group A, B, C and D all together would come to less than 5 lakh in any state government.

8. A question raised is, how would one ensure the integrity of such a huge staff in Lokpal? Where would so many honest people come from? We first need to appreciate that there has been a huge vacuum of anti-corruption staff in our country. There are some state governments which have less than 10 staff for the entire state in their anti corruption bureau and state vigilance department put together. Delhi police has less than 15 vigilance officers to check the corruption of more than 85,000 police officials. So therefore there is an urgent need to employ adequate number of anti corruption staff and fill this vacuum. There is so much of corruption in Income Tax department. Does this mean that we should wind up the IT department? No. The country does need an Income Tax department. The answer lies in putting right kind of systems in place in Income Tax so that the scope for corruption reduces and also making Income Tax officials responsible and accountable. Likewise, the time has come to first put adequate number of anti-corruption staff in place on the one hand and to make their functioning transparent and accountable on the other hand so that the institution of Lokpal/Lokayukta itself doesn’t turn corrupt.

c) Keeping CBI out of Lokpal’s control: It has been reported that CBI will not be merged with Lokpal. According to media reports, Lokpal would receive complaints of corruption, refer them to CBI, CBI would do the investigation and send its report to Lokpal and then Lokpal would file a chargesheet in the court. Doesn’t that reduce Lokpal to merely a post office – receive complaints, forward it to CBI, receive CBI’s report and present it before the court – so why do we need a Lokpal? Why can’t the CBI directly receive complaints, do its investigations and directly file chargesheet in the court? This is exactly what CBI does today. However, the CBI is in government’s control. Government exercises administrative and financial control over CBI. Government appoints its director and staff. Because of these controls the government is able to unduly influence CBI investigations. If CBI continues to be under government control and if government is able to influence CBI investigations, then how is the proposed system better than the present system? In cases of corruption, honest investigation is imperative. Prosecution would be successful only if investigations have been honest and effective. Government proposes to keep investigations under its purview by retaining its control over CBI. This has been the biggest obstacle in our anti-corruption system so far. There is a direct conflict of interest in government’s control over CBI because CBI is controlled by the very same people against whom there are allegations of corruption. Therefore it is critical that CBI be unshackled from government’s control, and converted into the investigative arm of Lokpal.

d) Corruption in Judiciary: We had initially proposed that allegations of corruption by judges should also be investigated by Lokpal/Lokayukta. However, the government assured that they would address judicial corruption through Judicial Accountabilty Bill (JAB). Unfortunately, the JAB presented by the government in Parliament and the standing committee report thereon do not make any mention of criminal investigation of corruption against judges. This means that if any judge indulges in corruption, he could neither be investigtated under Lokpal Bill nor under JAB. We strongly demand that since criminal investigation of judges has been left out of JAB, it should now be included in Lokpal Bill.

e) Protection of Whistleblowers: A number of RTI activists and those who raise their voice against corruption are being targeted, victimized and assaulted. They need to be provided effective protection. It is apprehended that as soon as a person would make a complaint to Lokpal, he would be victimized. Since the Lokpal would know the details of his case, this would be the best position to provide protection to that person. However, the government proposes to address this issue through yet another bill which gives the power of providing protection to whistleblowers not to Lokpal but to CVC. In 2003, in Satyendra Dubey case, Supreme Court had made CVC as the nodal agency for providing protection to whistleblowers against professional and physical victimization. In the last 8 years, despite receiving large number of requests, CVC has failed to provide protection even in a single case. This is because CVC has neither resources nor powers to fulfill those obligations. More than 13 RTI activists have been murdered in the last few years. The CVC could not protect any one of them. Even the standing committee which studied the proposed bill for providing protection to whistleblowers, strongly felt that CVC was not the right agency to be given that job. Therefore, we strongly urge that the duty to protect whistleblowers should be given to Lokpal under the Lokpal Bill.

f) Public Grievances: The government proposes to address this issue through yet another bill. However, the proposed bill is bound to collapse within a few days of its enactment. This is because it proposes a highly centralized system. According to the proposed bill, if a citizen fails to get his grievance redressed from the grievance redressal officer and the head of that department, the grievance would go to the state public grievance commission consisting of 5 members stationed at state capital. One wonders how this 5 member body would deal with grievances from all the villages and cities of the entire state – which could run into lakhs, if not crores. Still worse is the fact that an appeal against a state public grievance redressal commission would lie before a 5 members Central public grievance commission stationed in Delhi. This 5 member central public grievance commission would be expected to solve all the grievances against all state and central government departments of 120 crore population! Obviously the system is designed to collapse. We would strongly recommend that the system implemented by Uttarakhand recently should be adopted. In this system, if a citizen fails to get his grievance redressed by the concerned officer, there are two levels of appeals provided in the same department. If he is still aggrieved, the appeal would lie before a judicial officer of state Lokayukta stationed in the same district. Lokayukta has been given the power to appoint as many judicial officers as required at district or block level. If a grievance reaches a judicial officer of Lokayukta, the officer is required to act in a very tough manner. He would be required to impose financial penalty on guilty officers which would be deducted from the salaries of these officers and paid as compensation to the aggrieved citizen. Repeated violations of citizens’ charter would be deemed to be an act of corruption and could lead to imprisonment and/or dismissal of guilty officers. Such a huge deterrent would ensure that the grievances get solved within the department itself.

To sum up: from what we understand from the deliberations of the Standing Committee, the government proposes to remove CBI, judiciary, citizens’ charter, whistleblower protection, Group C and Group D employees from Lokpal jurisdiction. Wouldn’t that reduce Lokpal to an empty tin box with no powers and functions?

Posted in Jan Lokpal Bill, Politics, UPA II | 3 Comments

ACT!!!

“Just because we live in a democracy doesn’t mean we should feel paralysed.” – Mukesh Ambani

There is a “complete absence of decision-making among leaders in Government.” – Azim Premji

“They could have done a much better job in dealing with the demands of the civil society.” – Narayana Murthy

“Nothing will be done in a hurry to avoid trouble in the region.” – PM Manmohan Singh on Telangana

So to the current government:

1. Telangana is not an issue they need to take a decision on.

2. The world-wide economic recession is not an environment in which to take action and encourage growth.

3. The blockade in Manipur is none of their business.

4. Anna Hazare is in turns an agent of the RSS, of a “foreign hand”, a dangerously destabilising force, a naive old fool – but never a man who’s come up with a serious issue that a sizeable section of India supports vociferously and enthusiastically, never a leader, and certainly never a man whose demands need to be acceded to, even when he brings the country to a halt.

India’s current government is refusing to take decisions on fiscal policy, on inflation, on burning domestic issues, on foreign policy. I can only imagine that it’s because Sonia Gandhi is unwell and unable to take charge of the Congress Party. Or maybe they feel that since the world will end in 2012 anyway, it doesn’t really matter what nothing they do. Honestly, UPA I wasn’t this bad.

In any case, I really wish this government would make up its mind and do something. At this stage, I’m starting to wonder if there is at all a government ruling this country. If it wasn’t for the taxation and interest rate hikes, in fact, I’d think they’d taken my previous post (on the benefits of a rational anarchy) very seriously, and decided to back off!

But as long as we have a government administration, I’d love to see them govern and administer. Sadly, with this one, I just can’t.

I cannot wait for 2012 general elections.

Posted in BJP, Congress, Government inaction, Politics, UPA II | Leave a comment

Of philosophies and kings

The kind of nation Ayn Rand was looking at, with complete private ownership of everything and no government interference whatsoever, will probably never become reality. In the current scenario it would just cause problems, and I don’t see anyone agreeing to follow a completely open socio-politico-economic set-up in the foreseeable future.

But ultimately, it’s the only way men can truly be free.

Humanity started with monarchies and dictatorships, because that was closest to the concept of the alpha of the pack. Then we realised that that severely restricted our freedoms, that if we had to live under a single totalitarian ruler then we would essentially be under the control of his whims and the whims of his sycophants. So we eventually fought through to democracy.

This is an improvement because there is a chance that our rulers will tone down their whimsical disposal of our lives and livelihoods because they have to be re-elected.

But honestly, look at India’s democracy. Do you see them afraid? Do you see honest, dedicated individuals who want to better the country, succeeding in this system? Or do you see thugs and smug intellectual idiots sitting in power and making our lives a whole lot worse?

Let me give you an example of the kind of interference our government is capable of. I’m observing the processes and formalities a small business has to suffer in order to function, close up. My parents hardly have the time to get and do the work that earns the money that the government wants to tax, because there are too many forms and laws to fill and follow. And none is clear, and they’re all different for different income slabs, and even the auditor doesn’t know what they mean, most of the time.

Why?

Atlas Shrugged puts it rather well. A government servant: “The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? … But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on the guilt.”

That, of course, is how whenever someone goes against the government they end up accused of tax evasion or stamp duty fraud. It is literally impossible to obey all the rules they’ve dreamed up.

It may be possible to live in this current system. (Live, not just survive – of course it’s possible to survive.) But why should it be necessary to force ourselves to struggle through this? After all, what does the government do that the Indian private sector haven’t proven they can do better? What administration do we need? Roads? Private companies make them anyway. If the land is bought from private individuals along the way and developed by the companies and toll charged to make up costs and profits, where is the government needed? Disaster management? The government does a pathetic job. If they get out of the way, I’m sure disaster insurance will very quickly become something that every village can invest in. Education? The private sector has proven that they are better than the government in education. And without governments, there’s no question of reservation. This is true of everything the government today collects money for, except for the defence and the judiciary, defence because it does need centralisation and judiciary because it needs neutrality, which it can’t have if it’s partly or wholly owned by private entities. (Judiciary even now needs more independence, of course.)

The question that I’m sure will have arisen by this point, is: but what about those who can’t afford it? Consider it. Yes, the best services will always be meant for the rich. But there are markets at every level. If there’s no free education for the poorest of the poor (any different from the current situation?), that doesn’t mean there won’t be inexpensive education. If every person looks out for his own interests and the achievement of his own principles, then the poor will gain education by any of the following three ways: (i) A businessman will see a market in providing cheaper education in a city, attracting poorer sections of society. (ii) An industrialist will set up a school intended to educate the youth in processes needed in his factories, subsidising costs since it gives him an employment bank. (iii) A philanthropist will recognise that the poorest children are intelligent too and he cannot allow them to lose their spark for lack of training, and set up a scholarship fund/low-cost school.

In other words, if you have a truly free state, where everything is privately owned and every interaction is a matter of fair exchange and every person acts only for his own selfish interest, to achieve his own betterment and the realisation of his own values, there is no need for a government at all.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It does to me, at least, the thought of true freedom – the freedom to earn and the freedom to live.

This is not a call for revolution, because no one would join me and I’d feel rather silly standing alone and shouting for the establishment to “Get the hell out of my way!” It’s just a thought. A thought I’d probably never have had without the woman to whom I owe most of my thinking processes. A thought I’ve had endorsed by the view of my other favourite author, Terry Pratchett – that people lose their minds around kings, that they expect miracles from them, that the only kind of “honest” ruler calls himself a Tyrant – because that is exactly what he is.

This is not a call for revolution. It’s just something to think about.

Posted in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Politics, Terry Pratchett | 32 Comments

Stop talking.

I seem to be using most of my blog posts to express my political stand, which, really, only makes sense, since that is one of the things I really care about. I don’t like seeing my country in the hands of fools, and as a result, the current Government’s spokespeople, who I must assume really are representatives of the Government of India, pain me deeply.

I understand that they have to toe the party line. I’m not asking them to come on national TV and say that the Congress Party has not taken a single right decision in months. I’m not asking them to say that their Government has been acting like they desperately want to sit in Opposition.

I’m not asking them to say that UPA-II has lost the moral right to rule, which is something I firmly believe – and most Indians with me, I would think.

Go over the past few months of political news, and you have a spate of corruption charges against ministers at the Centre, against Sheila Dikshit (who still hasn’t been asked to resign, and whose story is on the back-burner now). Allegations go all the way up to the PMO itself. This Government seems morally corrupt, if no more, and a politician (as Arun Jaitley said some weeks back) must accept that he is ruled by public opinion.

In terms of public opinion, this Government should have quit when they found the kind of numbers of people gathering peacefully in support of Anna Hazare, to say that they do not believe this Government will act against corruption without external pressure. They did not, and of course, there was no legal obligation for them to do so.

But a Government is meant to govern. In terms of governance, policies impacting the lot of the common man, what has happened?

This is the Government of Manmohan Singh, popularly seen as the smartest financial mind ever to rule this country, the father of liberalisation. Yet despite the RBI’s best efforts, prices have continued to rise. I see that interest rates have been hiked again, today.

In terms of foreign relations, the PM somehow forgot to ask the CM of West Bengal what her opinion on water-sharing would be. These are matters that are observed on the international forum. You cannot afford to let the head of state of the world’s biggest democracy make such a basic error! This gaffe can’t have endeared India to the Bangladeshi establishment.

On the other side you have the Home Minister announcing on BBC that it is time India stops peering at Pakistani cross-border terrorism and starts looking inwards. Very true, the IM is growing dramatically. Please, please, do wipe them out. But do you really have to say it like this is time for a change of policy? (I haven’t seen any strong reactions from the Opposition or smug ones from Pakistan, so I hope this particular statement has gone unnoticed…)

When Opposition spokespeople ask hard questions about UPA-II’s commitment to helping the common man, Government spokspeople talk about NREGA. But just because it’s a pet scheme of Sonia Gandhi’s (for whom I have respect and deep sympathy), that doesn’t mean it’s an answer to everything. Maybe it is a boon to all villagers. But can one policy “for” the common man villager be enough to wipe out several that are “against” the common man, urban and rural alike?

I won’t go into any other details; I don’t know them too well.

This is the political situation in our country today. In this context, on NDTV last night, a Congress Spokesperson argues with utter conviction that the Government has not been in disarray at all, that things are going exactly as planned, that the BJP is in much greater disarray since Narendra Modi looks poised to make a national debut.

Point number 1, the UPA’s mistakes have nothing to do with Modi and never will. They have been trying for the past ten years to win Gujarat, but cannot because that state appreciates his work – which, very true, has nothing to do with minority relief, only with development and economic growth. So leave Modi out of the Centre until the BJP holds internal elections and decides to put him up as their Prime Ministerial candidate. If Modi is a liability at the Centre, they won’t put him up. He does not own the party. If he has mass support, they will put him up. The BJP would very much like to win the next election, and for that if they want to put Modi’s name forward as their PM candidate, they will. How is that putting the party in disarray?!

Point number 2, and far more important (yet so obvious that I decided to tackle the other point first): If this is the Government when it is not in disarray, if this is what UPA-II has planned all along, God help them and us.

This is not the only example of spokesperson stupidity. There have been dozens, over the past few months alone. They have rambled off on tangents, made accusations they could not validate, blustered and generally looked stupid, because frankly, the things they’re trying to defend are stupid.

My favourite Spokesperson Stupidity Moment is when Renuka Chaudhary announced, as a The Big Fight episode was closing, that she would “sit here and not move until everyone agrees with me”, a very pointed dig at what she felt was the irrationality of Anna Hazare’s methods. But you see, NDTV didn’t immediately pan cameras onto her and pay attention, because she would not, and could not, garner the kind of popular support that Anna Hazare did. Instead, the host simply smiled politely and closed the show.

For all I know, she’s still sitting there :P

Honestly, with the kind of decisions this Government is making and is being unwilling to take, with their inability to face any issue because they know full well that they’re in the wrong, with their brash eagerness to obfuscate issues and make people focus on the shortcomings of the Opposition instead, when it has nothing to do with the matter at hand – classic example is when the PM himself said “We are not afraid of discussing the issue of corruption. The Opposition also has too many skeletons in its cupboard. We are not afraid of discussing any issue in Parliament,” thereby admitting that the only reason he was smiling that day is not that he believed that his Government was morally and legally in the right, but that he believed that the BJP, too, would not push the issue of corruption. For the love of God, is this the way any intelligent man behaves, leave alone the so-called cleanest, most-educated (I think?) Prime Minister our country has ever seen?! – well, with all these things playing against the Congress/UPA-II spokespeople, there is only one real way they can maintain some respect.

Stop talking.

Posted in BJP, Congress, Politics | Leave a comment

Friends versus Ideas

A question I often ask myself is, how do you respect someone who actively disagrees with you on topics you hold very dear?

Politics and philosophy are two points that are very close to my heart. I have strong, well-defined, informed opinions. I know I’m right, because I’ve thought them through. Yet I have friends with whom almost my only point of conversation is debate on these two subjects. That means I know they’re wrong – that either they’ve not applied themselves to thinking about the issue, which is bad, or that they’ve thought it through and come to the wrong conclusion, giving weight to the wrong ideals and following the wrong logic. That’s worse.

Of course, I have more in common and more respect for those who think and disagree with me than with the other kind of dissenter. But I often wonder – how? When these things are important to me, when they are, as it were, policy decisions, how does one simply say different people have different opinions and continue to remain friends with people you disagree with?

This is a very simplified description of the way India and Pakistan can point to their common heritage as much as they want, but a handful of points of political and policy difference – and some wars, of course – are enough to make us permanent enemies.

Yet I have at least three incredibly close friends and at least two god-like mentor figure who hold strong views on politics – both actual events and abstract theories – which are diametrically opposite to my own. I still hold them in the highest regard.

I wonder how that is? How is it that I can hold my ideals absolutely dear to my soul, refuse to let anything taint or tarnish them, yet I can care deeply for people who think they are flawed in themselves?

When I know that, I’ll know everything.

Posted in Random | 2 Comments

Patriotism

Today is practically the first time ever that I’ve felt patriotic.

Yesterday was Independence Day; I slept through flag hoisting in my area. Ate the chocolate my grandparents brought me, but didn’t part, as such. Today I visited the Chennai chapter of the India Against Corruption movement.

I fell in love with my country.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what we do things for. We ask ourselves what the point was, why people bothered to die for the nation all those decades ago when this is the state of the nation over sixty years down the line. There are more problems than solutions, more things of which to be cynical than proud.

Very similarly, it’s also easy to lose sight of the purpose of the massive swell of support Anna Hazare’s got, why our people are doing the things they do to show that they are with him. It’s easy to think that no one man deserves a full day of TV news coverage to the exception of all else.

It’s a sad world where twenty four hours of continuous reportage can’t tell you the pluses and minuses of the whole business. But confusion is the life-blood of certain people in power, and confusion is a hard weapon to fight against.

This is why Anna Hazare has gained the love and respect of the people: he came in context of a felt need. Before his fast in April, if you remember, was the mess of several dozen scams and the refusal of the Government to take cognisance until the Supreme Court intervened. I, at least, was frustrated to the point of rage. I seriously considered finding a seat or a job or something abroad, so I could get the hell out of this place.

Then came Anna Hazare, and things changed. He came with a message people cared about, which is why people support him. He came at a time when people were ready to kill, and he made sure his movement was non-violent.

The Government seemed to respond, and it’s true, I was impressed by the fact that they took five members of Anna’s choice into the Bill drafting committee.

That was the very last thing they did right, but this post isn’t about Government idiocy; it’s about why I felt patriotic today.

I stood in a candle-light vigil tonight at No.153, Surendra Developers, LB Road, Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai (find the spot here). I shouted Vande Mataram! Acham Illai! Bharat Mata ki Jai! We Want Jan Lokpal! and other multilingual slogans.

I was proud of my people not because I have to be, but because I saw real people caring about real things and trying to make a difference. I was proud, because I’m angry with this Government and I see like-minded people willing to inconvenience themselves to tell the Government that they aren’t doing a good job.

I saw hundreds of people in the quietest city of India come together in protest. I stood with them, and my heart lifted. I realised some small part of what it must have been like during the ’40s, what it must have been like  during Emergency. I felt proud to be Indian, because my definition of Indian begins with the people I met today.

Today is a red letter day in my life. I believe in a cause, so I took a step towards helping it become reality. And I saw hundreds of others who care much more than I do.

In the words of some man just interviewed on TV, It isn’t about which side you are on the Lokpal divide any more. The movement has become one for systemic changes and against the high-handed stubborn stupidity of the Government. It’s become a movement for democracy – in support of your rights, and mine.

That’s why I was proud to stand in that vigil today. Because I did my bit to safeguard the rights of my people. It was a tiny bit, but it was all I could do today, so instead of beating myself up about not doing more, I’m proud I went at all – and so, so, so proud that there were people there all day, people going on indefinite fast, people signing up in front of my eyes – youngsters, senior citizens, mothers, babies, there were members of every section of society.

I love my country. I came out of that vigil prouder and happier than I’ve ever been before, counting the day I held the first copy of my book.

And really, that says it all, doesn’t it? :)

Come on, say it with me – Jai Hind!

Posted in Jan Lokpal Bill, Politics | 6 Comments

Inspirational quotes and how stupid they can be

The other day (I think it was yesterday, but the days and nights are starting to blur together – what comes of sleeping at 3am) I read what some spiritual leader sincerely thought was an inspiring, honest, maybe even an obvious statement.

I don’t remember the exact words now, but in effect it said that if you achieve something easily, if you don’t need to struggle/suffer for it, it cheapens the victory; it becomes as purposeless a success as if you don’t get a reward at the end.

It was worded much better. But essentially, that’s what it said. And I was looking at it, trying to figure out what in the world the matter is with this white-bearded “wise man”.

Because basically, he’s saying that suffering validates success.

He’s saying that you don’t get to feel the pride of the pure, clean aliveness that is victory, unless you first drag yourself through the slime.

I looked at that inspirational quote, and thought that only a man who’s never once suffered to achieve an ideal could think like that.

The first time, before you take on something big and important – yeah, OK, you may want to suffer. It’s understandable. You want to pay tribute to the ideal you’re fighting for, and nothing is more important than your own blood, sweat and tears. So the idealistic innocent in you insists that suffering is an important part of dedicating yourself to the Cause.

Then you realise, suffering is really, really annoying.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to put in your fair share, and more, of effort. If the cause is big enough, you’re still willing to die for what you believe in. If you need to stay up till 4am to work on your magnum opus, you will.

But you do this in spite of the fact that you’re suffering while you’re doing it. Not because you are.

There’s a war described in The Wheel of Time (great series, if you haven’t read it you really should – last part’s coming out Fall this year, and I can’t wait!). People who weren’t there, call it the Aiel War and speak of the glory the soldiers and generals won in beating back the enemy. People who were, call it the Blood Snow. They know it was a war. They know there was destruction. They know that at the end of the day, their success, their glory, was tainted by all that blood on the snow – friends, compatriots, lost.

That’s what suffering does to success. It creates a terrible memory that never leaves the victory.

I’m not saying, and never will say, that the victory is not worth the suffering. It usually is, and sacrifices invariably have to be made for the end result. I just wish that wise men who ought to know better wouldn’t go around praising, of all terrible slimy horrible things in the world, suffering.

Another book to be recommended, in the context of suffering and success, is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Read about Howard Roark’s struggle to become an architect. No one could call that easy. He suffered. But he doesn’t think of it that way at all. To him, every drop of sweat shed in the process of reaching his goal was worthwhile, required and right. And since it was his effort getting him to his goal, it wasn’t a sacrifice, or suffering, or even a struggle. It was advance payment.

Since joy is more important an emotion than sorrow, future joy is more important than present sorrow. Which means that the end is more important than the means, that it doesn’t matter what route you take to reach the goal – full of suffering, short and fast, whatever. Unless you sell out en route, buying ease of travel by selling your ideal, you end up at the same destination which gives you the same happiness, by all paths.

Think about it. Would you rather go Chennai-Bangalore straight down the Golden Quadrilateral, or bypass the bypasses and drive through every village on the way? Would you rather struggle to reach and feel proud of yourself for having overcome so many obstacles, or would you rather reach easily and safely and feel proud of yourself for having succeeded in style?

I say it again, there’s nothing wrong with suffering for a cause. The problem arises when people assume that without suffering, a cause is worthless – or that to validate a cause, they must, somehow, anyhow, suffer.

Either way, it’s not the suffering or the success or even the philosophy that annoyed me about that inspirational life quote. It was the fact that people might actually live by it – not realising that these sayings are often really, really, really stupid.

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Of the people, by the people, for the people

IN ADVANCE, I APOLOGISE FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS POST. ALSO, THIS IS NOT RESEARCHED – IT IS A REACTION TO A NUMBER OF NEWS REPORTS AND DEBATES I’VE WATCHED/READ, BUT NOT RECENTLY AND FRESHLY LOOKED UP.

This post is long overdue. Not only has my blog been static for far too long, as a friend reminded me some time back, but this is something that I should have written all the way back in April.

This is in honour of everything that Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, the Bhushans, Santosh Hegde, and all those lakhs of Indians supporting the cause have done towards keeping corruption on the table, burning bright as the prime political topic. There have been too many attempts to cover up the issue and brush it under the carpet; without Team Anna, as the media calls them, they would have worked.

I’ve not written a post on this before, because in April it seemed obvious to me that, in the face of the kind of corruption the country was facing, with scam after scam after scam tumbling out of the Government’s closet, no one would disagree with Anna. It was so obvious, when the PM spoke of “coalition dharma”, that even the most upright, dignified, respectable politician could show favour to corrupt subordinates because he didn’t want to lose power.

It was only much later that I realised that the people supporting the Government - ordinary people, mostly members of the intelligentsia, not politicians – were serious. They honestly wanted Anna Hazare to stop his fasting, not because of the danger to his health, but because they felt he was in the wrong.

Corruption is something that India takes for granted, by and large. I know people who will point out, in all earnestness, that we have no right to demand anti-corruption legislation because “Which of us has not paid off a cop to let us go without a fine?”

But that’s not the point. Especially when it comes to the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill, from my understanding, was crafted by a group of social activists, bureaucrats and lawyers who had simply had enough of corruption at every level – from allegations touching the Prime Minister’s Office down to tipping a Government employee to find a file, most things seem to need a bribe to ease the way in this country. And they had had enough of that “chalta hain” attitude that plagues us all.

So they decided to make this their crusade. To make corruption a real crime, considered as such by the people as much as by the authorities, with speedy convictions of the guilty; for justice, safety from corruption, to be accessible to all strata of society.

Arvind Kejriwal, in his recent appearances on TV news, has made that very clear. His first priority is not the Prime Minister and the Judiciary being included in the ambit of the Lokpal. It is to ensure that the problem of “the common man’s corruption” is addressed.

He, and the other members of Team Anna, come across on TV news debates as sensible people who care passionately about getting their job done. Those debates are held so that the public can get an honest perspective of what the powers that be are doing, and why.

Here is what I hear, when I put on my TV.

Team Anna representative: The Government version of the Bill is toothless, attacking the person who reports corruption rather than the corrupt official, and excluding almost all civil servants, MPs in Parliament, the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, MLAs, the Judiciary… the list continues. This is a joke, a very cruel joke, being played on the nation. It was not for this that Anna Hazare was willing to risk his life. The Indian people did not pour out onto the streets in support of this monstrosity.

The Government spokesperson or spokesperson for the Congress Party: Anna Hazare is not a politician, he cannot frame laws, therefore we need not listen to him. How dare he ask us to?! This is blackmail!

Blackmail is a harsh word, yet it’s been bandied about like it’s the most obvious thing that that’s what these crusaders have been doing. They’ve been accused of everything from corruption to fraternising with the Opposition – and no one has pointed out that it doesn’t matter. So what? Even if they were paid members of the BJP, so what? Does that make their cause any less valuable? Does it somehow taint their version of the Bill? As for corruption, would corrupt bureaucrats push as they have, with every bit of strength in them to get harsher, inflexible laws against corruption in place? Would the Lokpal not apply equally against whoever it is that they are supposed to favour, as much as against the Government?

When Team Anna asked the people – the people - democracy is supposed to be all about them – what they felt on the issue, they were accused through sarcasm of inflating their figures, and, if I remember right, of undermining the Constitution.

The Government no longer sees its own contradictions. This is a little scary.

When they accuse Anna of blackmail, do they even think? This is not the story of one arrogant man against something as noble and unchangeable as God; it’s not even the story of just one man’s dream any more, though that’s where this started.

The elected members of both Houses of Parliament had the support of the nation way back in 2009. He has it now.

On the 16th, India will be with Anna Hazare. We’re with him now.

They’ve accused Anna Hazare of unleashing the tyranny of the unelected. If I was feeling charitable, I’d say they don’t realise that they’re unleashing the tyranny of the elected. I’d say they don’t realise the way that their pseudo-logic and attitude of always being right affect the minds of the common man just as much as the intelligentsia. I’d say they honestly believe their own nonsense, and deserve a chance to be reasoned with.

But frankly, I’m not feeling charitable. Not towards a man who says that coalitions demand certain ethical sacrifices. Nor do I particularly like a man who uses phrases like “no intelligence failure” to describe yet another terror strike in Mumbai and attempts to justify them in Parliament, or men who smile, and smile, and smile, and say nothing though words are coming out of their mouths.

We’re approaching another Independence Day, and I mean that in both senses. If nothing else, I believe we are close to seeing a huge change in how this country works. I believe that finally, politicians in Parliament will realise that they can’t ignore public opinion. When they see peaceful protests in the streets, when they read lakhs of signed petitions, the writing’s on the wall. Do what needs doing, or get out of the way.

Honestly, though, there’s only one thing I’d ask the ruling party to take home from this. Whether it’s parliamentary democracy or direct democracy, the right to rule comes from the people. Denying the people something they’ve asked for as unanimously as they have for the strong Jan Lokpal Bill, goes directly and violently against the principles of democracy. It’s similar to saying that the Government no longer requires the consent of a majority of the people in order to function. It’s not just smart to give it to us; it’s right, it’s just, and it’s the only thing that can be done.

It’s now Tuesday, August 9th – exactly one week before Anna Hazare resumes his fast. Exactly one week before India creates a new definition of freedom… I hope. The future is still uncertain, but I’m looking forward to it.

Happy Independence Day in advance, everybody! :)

Posted in Jan Lokpal Bill, Politics | 2 Comments

Why I write fantasy

The first genre any child is introduced to is fantasy, whoever and wherever they are. It could be a story about brave princes and beautiful princesses who just happen to have their own names, or stories of mythological heroes and conquests – children’s bedtime stories are almost always fantasy. I loved them, I’d listen wide-eyed to stories about Princess Priya and her gorgeous white magical horse which flew her every night to Magicdom, where she would fight evil alongside her brother. Those nights were special, not just because it was my father telling me stories about “me”, but because I was discovering a whole new world. It had just been created, and it was for us to explore and invent. We could do what we wanted with it.

That’s what fantasy fiction is, in its most basic form; novels which create worlds. It’s something new, something no one has ever thought of before. It isn’t just because of our parents’ voices that we listened to those bedtime stories, right? It’s because we wanted to know where we were going, what this new, unheard-of geography would give us, where and what and how and why things would happen.

There is a joy that comes with creating something totally new. I’m sure that writers of realist fiction feel this joy too; but for fantasy writers, it’s special. You create more than a story. You create your own universe, with its own laws, its own people, its own ideologies, its own mythologies – it might be impossible to create the perfect world in reality, but something close to it is possible in fantasy.

Many people don’t like reading fantasy. They recognise its roots in children’s stories, and truly believe that fantasy is useless as anything more than escapism. Yes, like humour it does give the reader a way out of facing the terrible stupidities that the real world offer. For one thing, this is one of the most awesome things that fiction can do – but in any case, what these people forget is, the same problems arise and are addressed in fantasy as in realist fiction. There is love, death, war, villainy, heroism, joy and sorrow. The big difference is you have the distance you need to address these issues objectively. Equally, there are more fanatical fans of fantasy novels than of any other kind of fiction anywhere in the world. Witness Pottermania, LotR and WoT fan conventions, and the excitement induced by sparkly vampires!

Increasingly, there are publishers and authors – and let’s not forget, filmmakers (Avatar!) - who are interested in tapping the infinite potential of fantasy writings. Fantasy is an immensely popular genre the world over. There have been recent breakthrough successes in India as well, such as Samit Basu’s GameWorld trilogy and his succeeding books, but the fact is that publishers and authors seem to be responding to the urge towards the imaginative and fantastic more than readers are. Invariably, members the Indian reading public claim that they do not enjoy reading fantasy. (Even those who do, tend to prefer the established Western names, but that’s true in all genres of fiction.)

Regardless of that, and coming back to my point. Fantasy fiction is different from any other kind of writing because of the freedom that comes with it. You make the rules, and when the reader understands those rules, that’s when magic happens. Creation can happen only when the slate is clean; only with fantasy.

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