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Kill death sentence

I don’t believe in death penalty any more.

Yes, there was a time, not long back, when I was a proponent of capital punishment. I remember arguing quite vehemently, indeed abusively, with my good friend Iyer, about the Saddam Hussein case when he was being tried, though at that time we were arguing about his right to a fair trial. We deviated soon, as arguers usually do, and we were voicing opinions about the death punishment. I don’t remember what his stand was, but I was pretty convinced that death was the correct punishment for Hussein. I have changed my views over the last few years and I don’t support death punishment any more. I confess I don’t argue as vociferously against it as I did for it because some cases leave me in middle ground, though with my back against death punishment.

The underlying reason for this new stand is that I believe death is not the biggest deterrent – it’s the fear of of living in an unforgiving world. As kids, we have gotten into trouble often, I have. I used to lie, cheat in tests, steal money from dad’s drawer and conceal poor grades from my folks. And each time, the worst punishment I could think of was  varying degrees of reproach, insults or slaps. However, when I eventually did get caught, the imagined punishments would seem bearable, even mild, when my folks used to ignore me. Remember the time when you came home from school and found your mom solemnly pretending to read an old magazine, the food not ready on the table (or worse, when it was!), everyone unusually cheerful to everyone else, your dad being extra sweet to your siblings and they in turn being paragons of good behavior – the entire family being strangely perfect and you feeling like a stranger? That killed me. I broke down, then my mom, dad became Gandhian and my bro barely concealed his smirk. That feeling was a bigger deterrent.

Magnifying it to the death penalty vs life imprisonment argument, it may not be an exact fit, but the sentiment remains. My main contention against death penalty is that it vindicates the victim, but does not punish the criminal. I cannot bring myself to forgive terrorists and murderers and rapists and that’s probably why I don’t want them dead. Death is far too lenient and worse, doesn’t solve the purpose. They should suffer a punishment worse than death – the anguish of living in an unforgiving world. And as far as the purpose being solved, a person who is capable of being reformed, will be reformed, and the others – what better punishment of living in hell and facing the devil within themselves?

While most of the death row opponents agree with this sentiment, they seem to be non-committal when the argument turns to terrorism. And rightly so. I have been thinking about this for a while and I began to question myself during and after the Bombay attacks. I was horrified as I saw the attacks on TV and seethed when I read about the details of the attack. Like everyone, I was angry at everyone else – the terrorists, the security agencies, the ‘intelligence’ bureaus and both the governments. As TV channels banked on the misery of the victims and their families, I heard one particular girl on TV whose opinion put my vague ideas into words. She said our aim should be to kill terrorism and not the terrorists. And the fact that she in one of the ‘terror zones’ made me admire her conviction even more. That is our aim isn’t it?  Does killing Ajmal, a man who came prepared to die anyway, achieve that? I don’t necessarily say life imprisonment does, but it does something death does not. I don’t wish to bring religion into this, but from what I’ve read, these people are bred and made to believe in honor in killing and being killed. The Holy Wars, the Promised Lands, heaven, 72 virgins and many such promises are the driving force behind any form of terrorism. Killing them and in a sense validating their beliefs is, in my opinion, almost as heinous as advocating them.

I confess I don’t subscribe to the humanitarian side of the death row debate. Human rights are for the ideal world, and this world is far from being ideal. I don’t think death penalty is the only blemish on our otherwise unimpeachable humanity. Sorry, this argument does not convince me. Human right sympathies don’t apply to terrorists and rapists. But I do believe that there is a punishment that is far more insulting than abuses, far more painful than slaps and infinitely more torturous than death – betrayal. They should be made to realize that there is absolutely no honor in killing. They should realize that there is no heaven for terrorists, only the hell of Indian jails.

There was one particular comment that the judge made in the Kasab verdict  that I found extremely disturbing. He said one of the substantiating factors behind his verdict was that he did not want another Kandahar incident. I cannot think of a stronger argument against death sentence in this particular case. His verdict is driven, among other reasons, by terror! We all have a higher conscience to answer to, but is that terrorism? Have we as a country reached a point in history when we pass judgments, not because we want to punish our enemies, but because we fear them? This symbolic act of “sending a message” is actually on that is sent to us! I sympathize to many of the arguments for death penalty, but not this.

To expand on a confession I made earlier, I am still hesitant in putting forth my views against death punishment, especially when I realize that I speak with the comfort of not being a victim. Unfortunately, terrorism (and in fact rape or murder or anything as heinous) is not limited to an unfortunate few. It is global and it is very real. Would I still retain this ideal if, (ironically) God forbid, I become a victim myself? I don’t know. Which is probably why I’m trying to convince myself early on.

Veyil

Mood: Completely zapped out thanks to the Floridian sun.

I was talking to my mom last week and she got senti about some dish she had cooked that I like a lot. I started teasing her for getting nostalgic over something as ‘everyday’ as food. (An hour later when I made myself a bowl cornflakes for dinner, I regretted trivializing food, but that’s another story). The very next day, I made myself look like a jackass when I got senti over the most mundane of things – the sun!

I was waiting at the bus-stop under an unforgiving sun and was filled with an overwhelming feeling because of the monstrous heat! I’ve always thought of nostalgia as a bitter-sweet feeling triggered by innocuous things, like a movie-stub, or an audio cassette or an old progress report (which has only bitter memories) or maybe even food, courtesy mom. But something as noxious and offensive as the sun triggering pleasant memories is really quite something. Thankfully the bus (air-conditioned and uncrowded) arrived soon enough and I got to muse about the past 15 minutes sitting in my favorite seat – the last one on the left. I realized that this was but natural.

My entire childhood was spent in one of the hottest places on earth – Madras (or for any non-Madrasi readers wanting to Google-map it, Chennai). There are only 3 seasons in Madras – summ, summer and summerer. Being a coastal city, it was is humid as it is hot and I lived less than 4 k.ms from one of the longest coastlines in the world – Marina beach, which only made things damper (and saltier). I never used to travel a lot on account of my dad being a workaholic. So, all summer and ‘winter’ holidays were spent at home, barring a few visits to Delhi (some relief!) and rare vacations to hill-stations. Taking all this into consideration, it was only natural for me to get nostalgic over a bitch of a sun.

The most striking memory of my summer vacations is the things I (and my cousins) used to do to keep the temperature down. We used to cover every curtained-window with blankets to make it as dark as possible. Following my mom’s rustic advice, we’d keep a bucket of water underneath the fan in the hall. It was pretty effective and worked like an air-cooler, but over-time it made the entire place damp. Then came copious amounts of anti-prickly-heat powder (After trying one brand every season, I discovered Shower-to-Shower had the best effect and Cuticura gave me rashes). Then came hose-pipe baths in the backyard and bath-tub ablutions. Of course, these earned us the wrath of our neighbors, owing to their water crises. When everything failed, we’d give up and go into the godsend a/c room. Orange Tang played the single largest part in helping me through the summer without a single episode of sun-stroke. Kissan grape and my athai’s home-made squashes tied for a close 2nd.

I’d get up early and run to school for the seasonal inter-section cricket match (and later, football). Of course, ‘early’ is a subjective term and by the time everyone got to the ground, so would the sun. We’d play for a couple of hours and when the first guy collapsed from dehydration, jump the wall to the adjoining Shanti Vihar and pool our summer booty for a juice or milkshake each. Come back in time for the slew of afternoon cartoons, starting from with the Little Lulu Show at 11 till Power Zone at 3. With hand-delivery of lunches, mini-lunches and rehydrates, I didn’t move any muscle that didn’t aid digestion. I used to go to the beach often, either with friends or cousins, but always convincing ourselves that the evening breeze cooled us. I’d come back, dinner and finish the day of with Scooby Doo Where Are You? and the Popeye Show. School days weren’t a lot different, except that I didn’t have to roam around in the sun too much. Exam days were horrific when you had to cycle back in the bitch of the afternoon sun. Of course, cycling is never complete without the mamool half-hour talk at the street corner. Madras was hot as hell. It was great.

I’ve done everything under the sun, under the sun. P.C.Sorkar Jr., The Great Russian Circus, Mahabalipuram trips (which were “just another 10 mins to go”, according to my dad), Wrestlemania X-XVI, Children’s Park, Nehru Planetarium, Lion King, Aladdin, India vs Pakistan/Australia at Sharjah (which was okay ‘cos they were D/N matches), Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Tinkle, Asterix, Mango, chess with my bro and upturning the board when I was going to lose, Ludo, snakes and ladders, Dangerous Dave, Prince of Persia, Mario, Contra, Sonic and even my birthday – the sun had a part in everything.

My life has been one helluva long summer! And still is…

P.S.: Veyil is Tamil for heat or sunshine or summer. It means a lot to us Madrasis.

Economics

Economics is a fascinating subject. It has always allured me, though I have never been able to form an opinion on any topic I have come across yet. G.B.Shaw once famously quoted “If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion”. Maybe this is not a derogation, maybe this is what makes economics interesting. Of course, in the light of the economic disaster we are witnessing now, it is disturbing to find economists world-wide can not agree on a single cause or cure. A number of prominent economists are facing heat for not foreseeing it.

Many theories on the economic meltdown are floating around and some are being formulated even as I write this piece. I have read several non-detailed reports on the cause and all of them seem to make sense to me! Nevertheless, I came across a speech by S.Gurumurthy recently and found it really interesting. He is of the opinion that the economic collapse mirrors the loose cultural foundations of America and the Western world. Sounds logical right? But you would be surprised to see how profound the implications of this seemingly obvious equation are. This is the link for the first part of the speech and there are 5 or 6 parts that follow this. It might be a tough watch, but I think it was pretty interesting.

And while we’re on economics, try reading India Unbound by Gurucharan Das. Again, tough read, by very interesting. He explores the Indian economic freedom (till where I’ve read, which is not much). I hope to finish reading it soon and try to summarize in the hope of understanding it better.

A boy’s best friend

A dog may well be a man’s best friend, but before he became a man, the boy had a friend who was just as close, if not more – his bicycle. Yes, the bicycle is undoubtedly a boy’s best friend and faithful companion.

I myself was thoroughly addicted to my cycle(s) and now long to get a new one. Owning a cycle is quite unlike owning a bike, car or any other fancy automobile. I am almost 22 and have owned a couple of cycles, a scooter and have driven my dad’s cars without a valid license (both from him and from the state). I can say without the slightest hesitation that my cycle days were the best.

My first cycle was red in color, had three wheels and was, for the most part, made in plastic. I must have been 3-4 years old when I rode that. I confess I don’t remember having a lot of fun memories on it, but to be fair, I couldn’t have expected to have any, under my mom’s watchful eyes. I was never meant to have fun on a tricycle. I was put on one to keep me occupied, to make me go around in circles till I got tired and ate – or better still, got disoriented and slept off. No, tricycles don’t count. Boys want the real thing, they want the two-wheeled beasts. We want bicycles.

I believe that the cycle days are when boys have their first tryst with sexism. Boys are very touchy when it comes to the cycles and their relationship with their cycle is a sacred one, albeit, macho. For us, its about the speed, about the adrenaline rush and the falling down. For girls (from what I’ve seen) its an achievement, a credential. They learn to ride a cycle and they go tell their friends about it and get admiring, appreciative nods. It goes on their resume. So they have to be careful while learning to ride a cycle. They have side wheels – yes, the 2 words that make a boy cringe. The two words that question a boy’s masculinity.

My first bicycle was a BSA Champ and I shared it with my cousin Sharanya. Yeah, you guessed right – incessant fighting, bruises to limbs and egos, gender abuses. I hated the side-wheels on the cycle. The extra wheels defamed the cycle, made it effeminate and on some level sexually abused it. I would bend the wheels upwards or remove them completely when it was my turn to ride the cycle. I longed to grow up and get a cycle for myself, not one that I had to share with a girl, not one over which I had only partial right over, not one that had stickers on it, not one with side-wheels!

Finally, when I was in class 8, my dad gifted me my very own cycle. Well, he didn’t gift it in the traditional sense. I had to argue, cry, protest, boot-lick, go on a hunger strike, lock myself up in my brother’s room (for which I got into further trouble) and plead for it. But when at the end of all that, you get a friend for life, you just do it! It was a blue Hercules MTB Oversize 9000 and man, it was phenomenal! Of course, for having forced my dad to gift it to me, I couldn’t ride it to school. Parents’ idea of a win-win situation. Well, anyway, he had to be content being my friend at home and around the neighborhood. I used to ride my cycle all the bloody time. I offered to help my mom with domestic shopping so that I could take my cycle out. I would cycle to tuition classes and tennis coaching, despite them being at a proximity that would actually make the cycle ride a shame. But I didn’t care.

Then the unthinkable happened. I lost my cycle. Some slimy son of a bitch stole it from the parking lot in my house! I was so devastated, I thought I’d never recover from it. I went through what Tamil movies have made so popular – love failure. At long last, I drew myself out of the depression. With a feeling guilt, that only devoted husbands have when they give in to a sexy personal assistant, I bought a second cycle. With a feeling of shameless, remorseless submission that only consummate two-timers have, I fell in love with my new cycle – a stunning black-gray Hercules MTB Thriller. This love was to last.

Cycling meant the world to me. Cycling fast meant I was independent. Cycling slowly meant the world belonged to me. Cycling in a group made us cool. Racing made us men. Losing the cycle key (which happened more often than actually riding) taught us responsibility and breaking the lock open brought back our heartbeats. Cleaning the cycle made us fathers. It was not difficult to maintain a cycle at all and often, not necessary. After all, muddiness meant your cycle has seen action. I washed my cycle once a month on Saturday afternoons. I used to park it in my courtyard, bring a hosepipe and blast water on the dirty mudguards. I oiled the chain, cleaned the spokes and tightened the bell (which never seemed to clinked the way it did on the first day). I even employed my cousin Shravan as the helper boy. When my grandfather visited, I was the happiest boy on earth. He is the smartest, most technical man I have met. He used to dismantle the cycle, clean it thoroughly and put it back exactly the way it was! He seemed to understand my cycle and from the way he looked at my cycle I could see the remnants of a similar boyhood in his old gray eyes.

Cycles were never a mark of a social standing because we understood the evils a boy had to brave to get one. If one had a cycle, he was admired. If one didn’t, he was content with going doubles, without being judged unfairly. He was the partner in crime. He had to stand faithfully by the rider through the traffic, beat-the-clock speeds, chain malfunctions and bad roads. And we never defiled the purpose of our cycles. It was not for showing off or impressing girls. No, that was for morally corrupt bikers and car-owners. We respected our cycles. And like a true friend, he helped us back. Whenever I was late, all I had to do was to rub my hands over the chain till it was black with grease and tell my mom “the useless cycle let me down again”. Or take money for the innumerable air-fillings and cycle-services. It was a friendship only boys understand (And no matter how liberal you are, when it comes to cycles, men will always be sexists). It was a friendship that would have made Rajni and Mammooty submit meekly. I am proud to have had such a friend.

A boy’s relationship with a cycle is karmic, one that grows till they finally have to part ways. The boy moves on to the next stage in his life, forever longing to go back in time. And the cycle enters another boy’s life, making it as colorful as it made its old friend’s.

Ah!

Among the many many things I’ve learned from Krish Ashok’s blog, I think what I learned today is the most priceless lesson in my life.

For over 20 years now, I’ve been thinking the colloquial name for a vest is cud baniyan. Turns out it’s cut baniyan! Oh geez! Someone tell me they’ve thought so too!

And oh, the post from which I learned this actually has content far far more important than this piece of revelation. Well, just about.

I surprised a few friends by not becoming an SRK fan after the recent clash with the Sena. While it is true that the entire episode has not particularly made me respect SRK, I still laud him for standing up against Thackrey (though he needs to be a lot more forceful). It has also made me realize why I will never ever respect Shiv Sena and its ilk.

I will not go into why I don’t like SRK, but it is important for anyone getting into an argument with me after reading this to know that I don’t hate him either and I have not allowed either to influence my view on the topic.

Why I have not become a fan of his after his comments is simply because I do not agree with his view point. I honestly believe India should put all non-political ties with Pakistan on hold till we ease the political tension. Now, many of you may argue that this is precisely why arts and sports should carry on, I think not. I believe that cultural ties (broadly speaking) with Pakistan will not heal the wounds of the past, instead, will numb it. To draw a line from The Last Lecture, treat the disease, not the symptoms. I understand the need to nurse the symptoms and it seems logical – when the disease is finally cured, these symptoms may trigger a new disease altogether.

Sorry, I just love analogies. What my euphemism implied was that, these cultural connections will help ease the tension on a people-level (the symptoms); they wont stop terrorism or solve the border problem(the disease). So when finally the latter problems are solved, we may find that the people still hate each other and the cause is lost. While this seem logical, I feel this is insufficient. The problems are over 60 years old now and do not seem to improve. Cricket has helped argue some, but I doubt it. I honestly think sports and arts are far too insignificant when the flip side is carnage. And boycotting miscreants is not new to sports – South Africa was banned from a majority of the sports during the apartheid regime, the Moscow Olympics was boycotted during the Afghan invasion and many more such instances. Unfortunately for my argument, but positively overall, art has no boundaries and it is not practical to ban one country’s art in another, though even that has been done in the past by oppressive regimes (which I do not support). Having said that, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s contribution to ARR’s Vande Mataram did not endear us to Pakistan. We applauded Nusrat’s nice gesture and enjoyed his music, but were very clear where we stood a couple of years later during the Kargil War. So, my point is this, arts and sports and trade and cultural exchanges are amazing and I fully support them, but not when the sincerity of the target government is in question.

So am I profiling all Pakistanis unfairly and saying that the players are to be treated hostile? Hell no! I am just of the view that governments of both countries are using non-political contact in the wrong sense. They should be used to promote and maintain good relations, not be used as a cover for political incompetence. The bottom line is that these ties are not helping the big picture. And let’s face it – IPL is not a cultural endeavor by either governments, and to debaters who say peace talks need not be government initiated, let me say not for a moment do I think IPL is a any form of peace talk between the two countries. It is just a big, starry, fun-filled show out of which people make huge sums of money. I don’t think Modi or any of the team owners or the players themselves think of it otherwise. It’s no more a contact building endeavor than the Oscars.

All this could have been avoided had the Indian government been bold enough to take a stand on the whole Pak players in India. None of the politicians had the balls to say Pak players are banned or for that matter assure them and the teams that they are safe were they to come to India. The government was and still is an embarrassment in this particular aspect. Things were not helped by the slimy BCCI either. And who can blame the team owners for not taking Pak players? Imagine they pay dear money to buy a Pak player and there are visa issues or Sena tantrums and are not allowed to play. I mean, they are businesspeople and nothing more should be expected of them. But we needn’t have humiliated the Pak players by taking them in for the auction and not picking them. That is unforgivable.

Coming to the Seniacs (note my word play on maniacs). I think they are unreasonable, undemocratic, regressive people who should be banned. Although I may seem to agree in principle to what Thackrey has been shouting about, as far as this issue is concerned, I have nothing but disapproval in response to the kind of tactics he employs to convey it. What has the country come to when a Minister has to go to a thug and give a presentation for his ‘approval’ for playing in a state that he does not govern in the first place? He is not in power, he is not a cricketer, he has not invested in the League and more importantly, has done absolutely nothing for him to label an Indian unpatriotic. I respect democracy far too much for me to ever support his ways. I am not a Maharastrian, so cannot say how legitimate his ‘fight’ for the Marathi  manoos is, but whatever the justification, I cannot digest autocracy. A big no to moral policing, a big no to regionalism, a big no to racial profiling and a huge-ass no to Shiv Sena and its ilk.

So what do I feel about the whole episode?

  • The Pak players should have been treated far more courteously.
  • The disease needs to be treated and the symptoms will treat themselves.
  • The governments have to get a pair of balls each.
  • The Shiv Sena and MNS (to name a couple) have no right to tell the rest of the country (or other countries) what to do.
  • The entire episode should not be confused with patriotism, or the lack of it.

Phew! So, who do you think is gonna win the IPL this year?

Inspire the next

I have taken to late-night talk shows off-late (in the U.S.) and feel extremely sorry for the state of news channels in India. In an extremely moving episode just after the 9/11 attacks (voted the Best TV Moment of 2001 by Time), David Letterman made me realized what India and Indians need now – an inspiring leader (besides a good TV anchor).

An uncharacteristically grim and poignant Letterman lauded the then-New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani and his efforts in maintaining semblance in the chaotic city following the attacks. This praise was not a propaganda to say everything is well and green in NYC and the administration had done its work. It was not adulation meant to score brownie points with an influential politician. It was not even a word of thanks on behalf of fellow New Yorkers. It was an unreserved, unconditional and highly personal mark of respect he had for Guiliani. He went on air and personally vouched for the greatness that was Guiliani.

Flattening the goosebumps, I sat thinking what Guiliani must have done to have The Cynic worship him on one of the most-watched shows in the world (being the first late-night show to go on air after 9/11). Then a more pertinent question came to my mind. Where was our Guliani during our 9/11?

Yeah, I am talking about the sickeningly Bollywood name given to the Bombay (and it will always be Bombay to me) attacks. Vilasrao Deshmukh was nowhere to be seen and when he finally was, I don’t remember him saying that would have made me or any Bombayite feel safe. I try very hard to recollect any piece of news or personal recount that acknowledged the CM positively. In fact, the first ever post-attack news I heard from/of the CM was during that hideous and highly insensitive gaffe with his son and RGV.

India has never had a Guiliani, not since Gandhi I would say. We have never had any one to turn to when we were unsure. Our best answer has been a Vajpayee and to say that he was the best we had, shows how uninspiring our leaders are. He was a grandfather figure who did not ask us to fight, but was nevertheless there to nurse us when we got hurt. But he is not enough. When my house is burning or my family is being butchered or my country is at war, I need someone to say “I’ll kill those bastards for you”, not someone who sang poems and put me to sleep. I don’t want a Deshmukh, I don’t want a Modi, or a Karunanidhi or a Soren or even a Singh.

I want a leader who can stand before the TV camera and deliver a speech that gives me goose pimples. When I look back, he should be there and say “You can do it kiddo”; when I fall down, he should say “Get up and move on champ”; when someone hurts me, he should track them down and skin ’em alive! I want a father-figure up there. I want a leader who can inspire us, not to join politics, as has become a favorite catch phrase, but to simply go about doing our daily work. I want a leader who is respected by fellow politicians. I want a leader who talks to me, listens to me, fights for me. I want a Gandhi. I want a Roosevelt.

I want a Rudolph Guiliani.