Monday, December 12, 2005

Faces, Masks, Democracy & A Voice Clambering over Din

One of the failings of a literary dilettante like me is that I have nothing to say. I feel. But most of the time my angst is groping to find a voice, struggling for words. Words that I have grown to mistrust. They are so much like lovers, they often betray. So, the sum total of all the effort is still a voiceless angst.

Once in a while when I do muster words, my problem is compounded by the fact that I do not have influential friends like Bachchans or Ambanis. I do not have a dynasty to show for my credentials. I am not an iron man with a malleable tongue. I do not head a band of zealous sainiks or pracharaks who would lap up at any community/region specific claptrap or firebrand jingoism I throw at them. I am neither spiritual nor a new age guru. And of course I do not drop my pants for money (for love, yes). So even if I do find an opinion, does it matter?

Yes, it does. Because I am the vision that collective human effort envisaged over centuries while dreaming a civic society enshrined in the ideals of liberty and democracy. A mass of citizens educated, liberated, working for an honest wage, paying their taxes, complying with law, preventing abuse of power and ensuring that the political institutions that govern us fulfill their obligations to the civic society (read “us” – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” is mere sloganism, an oft-repeated platitude used world over to divert masses from real agenda and whip up false nationalistic passions) and strengthen the moral sinews that hold our system together. Thus it is imperative for me to find my voice to ensure my bit in not letting this collective dream slither in to a socio-political recidivistic existence.

And I guess that was the reason why when one wintry afternoon as I sailed past shops at Khan Market, glowing in the afternoon sun, here in the moment and yet not here, I agreed to pay advanced subscription for Tehelka’s forthcoming weekly venture to a stranger. Though I didn’t think so deeply then of my karmic responsibilities as a citizen of a free world. It was more of an impulse reaction. Like those split moments when the angst suddenly finds a voice. I looked at the tantalizing red chilly and I decided to pop it in. Maybe a tongue set on fire; it will find a voice for itself too.

The same afternoon I bought a book Hermit In Paris – a collection of autobiographical writings of Italo Calvino. As I sat in a coffee shop nearby and browsed through the book I found Calvino’s writings filled with references to writers and littérateur who suffered for their anti-fascist stance during the war periods - writers like Elio Vittorini, Carlo Levi, Piero Gobetti, etc. One more name came to my mind, Arthur Koestler. Except for Koestler, I haven’t read any of the previously mentioned authors’ works. Their travails and tribulations unbound a common theme. Goebetti died at a tender age of 25 from the after effects of a fascist beating. Levi was exiled for anti-fascist activities in 1935 and Koestler almost found himself facing the hangman’s noose under Franco before the British came to his rescue. That power when coupled with a backdoor agenda metamorphoses in to brutality in face of any criticism or danger of being unmasked. The justification that it is legal, attained through official channels of universal franchise and democratic elections is a sham. When was the majority opinion a benchmark for a moral bulwark for any society? If that were the case then there never would have been any revolution. The script is the same. Bruised collective identity, a tale of historical injustice inflicted on national pride, and the hard selling of a prosperous dream - the feel good factor and a shining future.

I book marked Calvino with the Tehelka receipt I got. An Italian angst ticked off by an indignant Indian voice. Many thoughts were swarming my head then and I can only pick a few now. I wonder what dulls a rational educated sense in to a lackadaisical compliance? I don’t understand what Mr. Mahajan means when he says he wants to table a bill that prevents not only people with foreign origin but also their children from contesting for the highest offices in the land? Frankly, if Sonia Gandhi had been an ordinary foreigner who had acquired Indian nationality and moved up the political hierarchy, I would have completely endorsed her candidature. I think a bill like this is completely undemocratic and discriminatory in nature. Why block any privilege to any person whom we have accepted in our folds? Isn’t this what democracy and universal suffrage stand for? I think the quintessential ideal of democracy is to eschew discrimination in any form. Wonder what Mr. Mahajan’s opinion is about Bobby Jindal’s candidature for Louisiana governor’s post? Will he endorse a similar bill in US Congress that prevents M. Night Shyamalan’s children contesting for US Presidency? I see this as a clear case of rationality lulled in to some sort of malfunctioning ideological compliance. How glossy advertisements fudge our moral values and sense of judgement? Is a rising BSE Sensex a panacea for all social evils? Does it conveniently iron out the rough edges of the moral philosophy that the status quo is trying hard to sell? Can hard economic growth conveniently walk over our sense of righteousness? And then the growth itself is suspect.

I wonder what conscience sits with the corporate glitterati when they invite Narendra Modi to speak at a function weeks after the Gujarat mayhem. And didn’t their soul stir when Jairus Banaji(1) stood up and shouted, “Why is the CII lending credibility to political forces that have blood on their hands?” I heard many a silent angst resonating in that question that Banaji raised. I recall few lines from an article Raj Kamal Jha(2) wrote, “I wanted to pick Mr Modi’s pocket for his handkerchief. And smell, in the warm dankness of his Hindu sweat, the Muslim tears he’s wiped.” Did he find the moist patch left by these tears any different from those of Hindu tears?

I wonder where is India shining when acid gets thrown at women in a local Mumbai train. I wonder whether we still shine when a man lies bleeding on a Mumbai platform while people alight and board the train with utmost apathy.

But who has not lost
A face in deep thoughts
Standing next a bleeding man
The city offers million excuses
To leave the dying on the pavement.

I wonder what is shining when cotton farmers driven with abject poverty and debt commit suicide in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. I wonder who is shining when a whistle blower in National Highway Project is ruthlessly murdered for exposing corruption. Next time I drive on the four-lane stretch in Greater Noida, I know Mr. Dubey I am on the asphalt laden with your blood. I wonder how vandalizing the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune by Sambhaji Brigade resurrects the Maratha pride. Who shone in the end – Shivaji, Maharashtra, India?

I wonder whether Mr. George Fernandes found himself shining when he saw a foreign hand behind Graham Steins murder. By the way, I do suspect that there is a foreign hand involved when I see MIG21s falling off the sky like bird droppings, didn’t it occur to you Mr. Fernandes? Or was it Mr. L.K. Advani shining when he summarily dismissed the charge by saying that he knew these organizations well and that they were incapable of performing such acts. I wonder if he can say the same with such surety about the various constituents of Hurriyat. I wonder how blinded with his sheen are Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s powerful friends that they have nothing to say when he openly defends Amarmani Tripathi, the proclaimed murderer of poetess Madhumita Shukla. And last but not the least; Mayawati definitely stole the sheen from Taj Mahal. Hope she is glowing now. Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to India Shining!

An English noble wrote once to his son in a letter, “Son, you’d be amazed by how little sense rule the world!” Ok! I am willing to put up with a senseless brain but what to do with an insensitive heart? And together, they do form a lethal cocktail – complete apathy for human life, dignity and justice. A senseless brain will be foolish but an insensitive heart smacks of contempt and utter disregard for others. I am reminded of a speech Arunadhati Roy(3) gave in New York City last year. She quotes Mr. George W. Bush Senior’s reaction when U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger airliner in Persian Gulf on 3rd July 1988 killing all 290 people on board. He said, “I will never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are." That’s the kind of danger democracy is fraught with when confused ideologies mixed with fascist tendency work their way up the corridors of power. That’s what we will be doled out if we do not stand up and stop this politico-ideological juggernaut. I see a parallel between the newfound organized evangelist American zeal to proselytize(4) and the RSS-VHP agenda in collusion with BJP here at home.

Thus we must pull ourselves out of this contemplative dulled soporific ideological existence we have lulled in to and thrust forward in a realm of action, as Tarun Tejpal says. We must stop this urge to deify and keep alive the temptation to question the obvious. Because behind all this gloss of India shining, I see an ugly face lurking. But didn’t we already know that? After all Mr. Vajpayee is just a mask.

Murtaza Danish Husain
February 2004

(1)Jairus Banaji is a peace activist who was thrown out of a CII summit where Mr. Modi was wooing investors back to Gujarat after the communal violence and the dip in the investments in its aftermath for raising this question. Unfortunately, Banaji’s article that I refer to does not give the date or venue of the CII summit. For more details please follow the link

(2)The article is titled ‘John Brown and a Dog called Chum’. I do not know where it was published. Amitava Kumar forwarded it to me. For a fuller version you may send me a mail at

(4)For details read the cover story in Tehelka’s weekly newspaper’s debut on January 31, 2004.

PS: This article was published in Tehelka in one of the April, 2004 issues.


J said...

Phew! i finally managed to find out ur personal blog. But it's too long a post for me to read n comment :p

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

I loved the finishing touch: "After all Mr. Vajpayee is just a mask." I guess we can substitute "Mr Vajpayee" with any other leader and the result will be the same.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article...does wake one up from the deep, long slumber. Hope this wakefulness persists forever or at least long enough...