Thursday, February 28, 2008

Darkness at Noon – A compelling history chapter

“I plead guilty to having followed sentimental impulses, and in doing so to have been led into contradiction with historical necessity. I have lent my ear to the laments of the sacrificed, and thus became deaf to the arguments which proved the necessity to sacrifice them. I plead guilty to having rated the question of guilt and innocence higher than that of utility and harmfulness. Finally, I plead guilty to having placed the idea of man above the idea of mankind”

– This is what, the communist protagonist in ‘Darkness at Noon’ by Arthur Koestler says during the course of a forced confession to his interrogator.

The book needs to be read by young men and women to know how history has its own pockets where our school textbooks rarely shed light. A man belonging to the party is arrested suddenly though not completely unexpectedly and is subject to torture through different methods to extract the confession that would suit the regime – headed by No. 1, apparently, the reference is to Stalin.

The book is organized into three confessions each giving the reader an insight into the prisoner’s mind and his motives for the manner in which he conducted himself. His belief that the revolution would result in public good gets shaken and at the same time, he gives in to the party’s high command despite his conscience pricking. The author’s own personal experience has added to the authenticity evident throughout.

The prisoner feels like this about the party:

“The party denied the free will of the individual and at the same time it exacted his willing self-sacrifice. It denied his capacity to choose between two alternatives and at the same time it demanded that he should constantly choose the right one. It denied his power to distinguish good and evil – and at the same time it spoke pathetically of guilt and treachery…There was somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation did not work out.”

Initially he reasons that the party line has to be adhered to in complete abeyance of doubt but later his own thinking in the prison establishes that humanity should be given the respect it deserves and that in the name of a distant dream, freedom shouldn’t be the victim. The old guards thus did not see in Stalin the fruition of their struggle but rather a strong authority and a towering personality.

The passages in the book are a window into Russian history and it’s past. I have always been interested in Russia as a topic in fiction ever since I read Dostoevsky’s works. This work hence proved to be a very deeply satisfying read that I’d always cherish. Special mention is due of that part in the book where Koestler in his own style, proves that the means are as important as the ends.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Television debates – Do they lead anywhere?

English language news channels in India are increasingly becoming a problem of plenty. NDTV, CNN IBN, Times Now and Headlines Today (HT was once my favorite, but sadly their standards have fallen drastically of late) are the key players and are supposedly the most visible face of the free media that India has to the world.

While some programs stand out for their innovative structure, idea and format like the ‘Citizen Journalist’, ‘Walk the talk’ and ‘Frankly Speaking’, there are glaring deficiencies with respect to the nature of programs that feature debates with key political and social personalities voicing their opinions and view points. This was very objectively pointed out in a recent article in ‘Times of India’ – ‘What we don’t want to know’ by Santhosh Desai (Feb 18th, Bangalore edition).

People like Abhishek Singhvi and Arun Jaitley are regulars representing the congress and the BJP respectively in many of these debates. The grudge that I have is that, these televised arguments are nothing more than just a window for the Indian public to know how strongly people from their favorite political parties defend their stand. Beyond that, thanks to the role of our hosts like Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami, more often than not, one side of the story/debate gets conveniently under conveyed if I may venture to put it so.

In their eagerness to stand for what they perceive as the so- called righteous/liberal/secular side, they tend to suppress the view points of the other purportedly fundamental/non-liberal/non-elitist side. Be it the debate over Modi’s style of functioning, OBC reservations, artistic freedom or conversions, their style has become quite evident. The host of the show tries to hijack the nature of the debate and by clever usage of words, facts and witticism weans the direction of the debate to the side that he/she/’the channel to which the host belongs to’ feels are in the right. Santosh Desai rightly calls it ‘Willful blindness’ and ‘an imposition of one point of view’.

While in the majority of cases, this can lead to situations where the public feels elated at seeing their political representatives deserving what they get, in some cases, the public sympathy may not rest with the host. To take Gujarat’s election as an example would drive home the point – though many exit and opinion polls gave a slight majority to the BJP, our television hosts wondered how this could be. They were joined curiously in this case by some sections of the so-called secular press. In the end, the mandate seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of the BJP.

What I am trying to say is that, we need more than just SMS polls and lopsided debates to influence/mobilize public opinion on issues of civic/political/general interest. Hopefully, our English news channels would discover their follies soon enough to recover and regain public faith if at all that is lost!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In her World… for a few moments…


I met her for the first time on a Monday evening while returning from office. She caught my attention as I was curious to know what she was trying to do. She was hesitating – her hand would just graze a part of the pakoda and then as if someone had caught her in the act of stealing one, she’d take her tiny hand off it. Within the next few seconds, she would do it all over again. The vendor did not mind and I could not resist an urge to ruffle her hair. I loved doing that and she turned her surprised cute head towards me and looked me straight in the eye and smiled back sheepishly. The pakoda vendor also smiled and in an almost apologetic vein went on to admonish her. That gesture from the vendor was meant more to make the child feel comfortable. I thought he likes the child.


Tuesday found me looking almost involuntarily for her near the vendor’s and I wasn’t disappointed. She was more beautiful in a green skirt and gathering it around her knees with one hand and with an empty water bottle on the other, which evidently somebody had carelessly thrown away on the pavement, she was taking aim at another empty water bottle that she might herself have placed a few metres ahead of her on the otherwise empty pavement. She was oblivious to the honking and chaos so close to her near the junction by the pakoda vendor and for a few moments we were removed from the world around us. We were in a world of our own and all to ourselves with not a care.


The third day when I looked out for her, she was standing a little afar from the pakoda vendor and gazing at a headless little girl mannequin, through the glass into a shop. The mannequin had on her a pretty pink frock and was holding the hand of her mother-mannequin who was also strangely headless. She was again in her own world. If somebody had shouted out her name loud at that very moment, I’d have been surprised had she responded. I failed to catch her attention for the second consecutive day, but neither did I want to disturb her and bring her back to the practically harsh reality.


She had found some unused bricks and arranged them to some height to make an elevated little step. She was bending over and with a water-filled ponds powder container was trying to spray water onto what appeared to me to be tissue papers. I had no clue where she found them but when I tried to figure out whether she was trying to clean the papers thoroughly or give them an imaginary bath, I lost. For her movements were alternately, forceful and gentle. She hadn’t perhaps made up her mind.


On Friday, I was more than just expectant to observe her because I was not sure whether I may pass by the same junction for two days immediately thereafter in the weekend. I did not find her and obviously disappointed, I made up my mind to search for her in the neighborhood even if it took some time. When I was about to give up in vain, I caught her humming a tune to herself and waving at a girl who was pillion-riding in a bike. I was also in her line of sight and when the bike turned the corner, before she could bring down her waving hand, I waved at her and her instant smile and recognition went straight to my heart. She waved back to me and my joy knew no bounds.

This is what love is all about. Sweet filled with warmth, a little selfless and a lot innocent!!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Difficult "Good byes"

What is the feeling of a person when he/she is led by circumstances to bundle up all the rewarding workplace experiences and cast the bundle into a dark airless room and shut the door firmly on it? In short, what happens to a person who decides to move on in his/her career either due to compulsions or out of volition? If it is the former, the challenge of adjustment confronting a person may be daunting and if it is the latter, the move may be a little easy.

“It is 7.38 on a Friday morning in Bangalore city and you are listening to the ‘Friday flashback’ on radio city with me, Vasanthi.” That Friday morning was the last that Bangalore would be hearing Vasanthi, one of the city’s favorite Radio Jockeys hosting the breakfast show. She was saying that she’d be missing the chance of hosting the show and her 3.5 years of experience with radio city would soon be coming to an end.

I was relatively a recent listener of the FM channels and the whole thing started after I moved to Bangalore. While in the morning shuttle to office, I had made it a habit to listen to Vasanthi’s greeting “Good Morning, Bangalore”, which as many among the public felt made them better equipped to face the daily chores of the day ahead.

Being in a profession which involves many opportunities to interact with the public on a day to day basis and making them speak, being party to different moods and swings and finding something to say to every person that would make the caller feel a little special and heard is no easy task. To gain the appreciation of the public for a work well done and consistently at that irrespective of a city’s early morning cold requires grit and above all enthusiasm towards the job itself. For the nature of a job like the one that I am speaking about can easily betray a dull person!!

Her pronouncement made me contemplate the whole issue of “difficult goodbyes”. We all go through this moment at some time or the other in our lives and every person’s reaction to it inevitably differs. For God hasn’t programmed all human beings to respond to every challenge in the same vein!! If he had, the world would be a boring place.

So, I thought about Vasanthi’s journey as she was herself describing it between songs amidst messages form the junta. I was reminded of another such instance when a person quit my team in the office out of her own will. It was like a branch of a tree slowly felled and it requires some time for another branch to take its place and bear fruit. We were all asked by our manager to say what we thought about the concerned person and it came to an end with the manager sending a mail that we would all be missing a good human being and an efficient resource. Though the mail sounded clichéd, there wasn’t any other way to have said it better.

When it is time to move on in life, one has to take leave of many experiences and force oneself to focus on a new role and a little different setting. It is not always easy particularly when the association with the workplace is not just professional but beyond that, a little personally satisfying. I shuddered at the prospect of the people who had to confront a different environment and more at the emotional loss that they may experience. I listened to my friend say, “But that is life na?” I couldn’t help but agree. After all, life is sometimes about “moving on”.