Sampath G

That Narendra Modi joke you’ve never heard

In Celebs, Culture and Society, Politics, Trends, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

There is a famous scene in the Coen brothers’ film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, where Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) is recovering in a hospital after being seriously wounded in a gun fight with the hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in the role of a life time).

A bed-ridden Moss is visited by another hitman, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who is surprised to find Moss alive after his encounter with Chigurh.
“What’s this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?” asks an irritated Moss.
“No, I wouldn’t describe him as that,” says Wells.
“How would you describe him?” Moss wants to know.
Chigurh is a remorseless killer, the most dangerous man imaginable. But Wells doesn’t say any of that. Instead, this is how he describes Chigurh: “I guess I would say he doesn’t have a sense of humour.”
Like lightning that illuminates an entire landscape in a single flash, this one line is all we need to see Chigurh for the kind of man he is. He sounds more terrifying in this sentence spoken by a fictional character than in all those other scenes where he actually goes around killing people. And we find it chilling precisely because McCarthy here hints at the Chigurh lurking in each one of us, waiting to be summoned by the right cause, the right ideology, or the right man on a white horse.
Narendra Modi is scary for the same reason that Chigurh is scary: on publicly available evidence, he does not have a sense of humour. And neither do his legion of fans, who are less his fans than aspirational clones, as attested by the popularity of the Modi mask.
As Sandipan Deb observed in an article hereNo one jokes about Narendra Modi. In the whole vast limitless universe of the World Wide Web, there is not a single joke about Modi—at least none that are searchable. But there are tons of gags about Rahul GandhiManmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi; entire websites and facebook pages dedicated to having a laugh at their expense. Is it because the latter three are inherently funny people while there is nothing at all funny about Modi? Or is it that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who worship Modi, and those afraid to joke about him?
Humour, like some chemical elements do when brought near a white flame, acquires a strange new property when brought into the force field of power: it turns subversive. If you’re not living in an oppressive or totalitarian state, humour flows freely around the nodes of power and public discourse retains its civility under pressure. The moment the weight of power falls heavily upon those governed by it, humour disappears. And when it reappears, as it eventually will, it does so as a weapon that punctures the self-righteous piety which envelops power; it deflates the puffed-up sanctimoniousness that tyranny wears to shield itself from being interrogated by the kind of free and fearless speech that makes any democracy worthy of being called one.
Therefore, a sense of humour, defined as a willingness to laugh at oneself, is a fundamental value in a democracy and a non-negotiable quality for anyone who would aspire to a leadership position in politics. That people are not comfortable cracking jokes about Modi is a big minus for the PM wannabe. However, it is consistent with his history of bigotry, and fully in keeping with the allegations of his political opponents, who accuse him of possessing a fascist mindset. Indeed, humour does not mix with extremism, and if Modi wants to leave his extremist past behind, he must learn to lighten up—and that doesn’t mean joking about other people. For instance, if only he’d had a sense of humour, he would have done better than to run away from hard questions like he did in his interview with Karan Thapar.
Of course, one can argue that Modi’s public persona of a humourless authoritarian is just an act. But it is that act which wields power and takes decisions as well, and it is the nature of such power to seek control. And because humour cannot be controlled, power hates it. To take a recent example, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, another humourless authoritarian, arrested a Jadavpur University professor last year just for sharing an email that poked fun at her.
Today, when Modi is only a PM aspirant, and that too notionally, and not officially, his acolytes can barely stand jokes about him. I honestly would like to know if there’s anybody out there who believes that in a scenario where Modi is PM, Modi jokes would be tolerated in public discourse the way Manmohan or Rahul jokes are today. If you are that anybody, let’s see if you can walk your talk by sharing a joke about Modi (not by him) in the Comment section below.
Modi and his followers are too much in love with the image of the grim visionary who will lead India from the chaos of adolescence to the macho-rity of adulthood—obviously, for when you fall in love, you always do so with an image. What distinguishes an authentic individual (more commonly known as a human being) from an image is vulnerability. In so far as Modi is a human being just like the rest of us, just like Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh or even Arnab Goswami, he is vulnerable.
But the hard visage of Modi’s leadership persona has no room for anything as ‘soft’ as vulnerability, which is why he is a dangerous man for democracy. There are no jokes about Modi because Modi is first and foremost an image, and images are too worried about cracking up to crack up themselves. Modi’s India is no country for irreverent men—and that’s no laughing matter.

Why I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter

In Celebs, Cinema, Culture and Society, Hollywood, Popular Culture, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm

“You are following Mila Kunis?” An ex-colleague smirked at me last week—if, that is, it’s possible to smirk in a text message. I was used to getting annoying messages from him, so I ignored it. But he later called and wanted an answer.

“I’m curious,” he said. Apparently, he hadn’t thought of me as the kind of guy who would follow Mila Kunis on Twitter.
“I am a Mila Kunis fan,” I told him. “Isn’t that a good enough reason?”
“Dude,” he said “Mila Kunis doesn’t have a Twitter account. Go check it out yourself.”
I did. And he was right. I hadn’t paid attention. Both of her probable Twitter accounts—@RealMilaKunis with 392,422 followers and @MilaKunisOnline with 22,957 followers—distance themselves from the ‘real’ Mila Kunis, the one you might expect to fulfil the Cartesian promise offered by the famous philosophical dictum, “I tweet, therefore I am.”
I recalled that I had decided on @RealMilaKunis as the ‘real one’ because a: it had way more number of followers than all the other Kunis accounts put together; and b: (call me literal-minded) it proclaimed itself as ‘real’.
Fine, @RealMilaKunis may not be the real Mila Kunis. But what is the ‘real’ Mila Kunis anyway? Is that even a legitimate question?
Let’s go back to Rene Descartes for a minute. “I think therefore I am” is basically a way of saying: from the truth that I am thinking follows the truth that there must be a thinker in order for thinking to happen, from which follows the truth that I, the thinker of the thought, exist. But is this test of reality—clearly inapplicable to social media—relevant even in the offline world, given that we almost never have an unmediated access to reality? It is quite possible that you may not exist even though you think thoughts simply because it is not you thinking the thoughts in your head but Arnab Goswami. Take away mass media, and the ‘reality’ of Arnab Goswami disappears in a puff of TRPs, irrespective of whether or not there exists in the universe a carbon-based life form carrying a piece of paper identifying it as Arnab Goswami. Indeed, when Descartes set down his famous hypothesis, not only was there no social media, there was no media, period.
In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin writes, “We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.”
Inundated as we are, by stories about celebs every day of our lives, and watching them perform, succeed or fail on our TV screens, we develop a relationship, and a sense of intimacy, with the image of these celebs that we carry in our heads. The Cartesian self will argue that this is a false sense of intimacy—that it is not real. But who’s to say that illusions are not ‘real’ for the one harbouring them? So we build temples for our celeb gods, turn violent when someone ‘insults’ our celeb-god (where are you, Sachin fanatics?), and follow our celeb gods on Twitter.
Social media, especially, is powerful in eliminating the existential distance between a star and an earth-bound star-gazer, and creating the illusion of a direct connection. Twitter has brought about Reformation in the Church of Celebrity: now the fan can directly talk to God, without the mediation of mass media or even Google. At least, so it seems.
A friend who worked as a journalist with me in Mumbai believed himself madly in love with Priyanka Chopra. He got on to Twitter with the singular intention of getting Ms Chopra to acknowledge his existence. The day that happened—either the diva retweeted or mentioned one of his tweets, I don’t remember which—he seemed to have discovered his inner Buddha, to put it mildly. He subsequently quit journalism to join the film industry. Would there have been any point in telling him, for instance, that Chopra doesn’t tweet, or that her social media manager does it for her?
A couple of weeks ago, Mila Kunis announced on her Facebook page that she was pregnant with Ashton Kutcher’s child. Her message read: “As you all probably know, I’m pregnant and I’ve decided to take the next nine months off with Ashton Kutcher in Hawaii. Don’t worry, my manager will be posting pictures everyday as usual so you can all see the progress and news. : ) I’m so happy. Any ideas for baby’s name? I love you all and thank you for the support. : )xx”
Reading this, as you can well imagine, I was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: selfless joy at the fulfilment of her wish to become a mother, and selfish dismay that, of all people, it was Kutcher’s sperm that got to it first. I became so upset that I actually gave up the Internet for a couple of hours. I knew, of course, that this wasn’t Kunis’ real Facebook account, that it was maintained by her fans – but it made no difference—to my mood, or my sense of reality.
Thankfully, the whole episode ended happily when it turned out that it was just an April Fool’s joke, and Kutcher’s sperm still has a long and arduous trek ahead.
To come back to the original question, why do I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter?
Definitely not because I find her tweets funny or interesting. Here’s a random sample of tweets by @RealMIlaKunis:
“Stop waiting for the right moment, because sometimes it’s now or never.”
“The best revenge is to show them that your life is moving forward even though they left it.”
“We always ignore who adores us, adore who ignores us, love who hurts us and hurt who love us.”
“Hard times will always reveal true friends.”
“Spend your life with the people who make you happy, not the people you have to impress.”
You get the idea. This is decidedly not the Mila Kunis of Black Swan or Friends with Benefits or the Mila Kunis of my imagination. It is someone sitting on a vast treasury of platitudes, and releasing them to the world at a rate of two per day. But the miracle is that I find the tweets totally relevant to whatever I happen to be dealing with in my life when I read it. Just now, for instance, she tweeted, “Life is easier when you’re not complaining, worrying, or stressing about bullshit.” Soon as I saw it, I knew it was addressed to me, and I have to stop this piece right now.
So here you go. Why do I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter? Because she’s there.

A sober companion to watch IPL with

In Cricket, Sports, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Pained by the degeneracy of contemporary cricket, a famous essayist lamented, “A hard utilitarianism and commercialization have far too long controlled it.” Years later, a famous cricketer who felt the same pain commented, “The first and worst trouble of modern cricket is that players play too much, our best men will be permanently stale, irritable and below form.”

Just consider: when these two observations were made, there was no IPL, no T20, no one-dayers, no live telecast of cricket matches, and therefore no multimillion dollar sponsorships or broadcast deals. The first observation is from E.V. Lucas, writing in 1907. The second one was made by Walter Hammond 60 years ago.
And here we are today. Guess what’s ailing the sport? Too much commercialization and too many matches. Both these taken together leave our best men permanently stale, irritable and below form. We saw extreme evidence of this when M.S. Dhoni’s men got thrashed 4-0 in England within three months of being crowned world champions, and our laborious ascent to the No 1 ranking in Tests began to be remembered more by our premature ejection from that position.
And yet, for all the pain, the typical cricket lover—even, and especially, the purist—cannot help but continue to follow the sport. For that, too, is an essential trait of the purist: loyalty to the sport no matter what. No matter how many times the game is dragged through the gutter of fixing scandals, no matter how many times the sport is betrayed by its administrators, and no matter how much of meaningful cricket commentary is replaced by vacuous chatter, the purist will not—cannot—stop watching.
For such souls, which are bound to be in pain at this time of the year in this part of the world, the first Indian edition of the Wisden Almanack comes as a quiet, shaded grove where, sheltered from the lurid assault of Indian Premier League, they can meditate in peace on a magnificent career come to a close, or relive the nostalgia of a famous victory, and energise once again their waning enthusiasm for the game.
The first edition of the Wisden Almanack came out in 1864. It took nearly a century and a half for sport’s longest-running reference book to come to India. Edited by Suresh MenonWisden India Almanack 2013has almost everything one has come to expect from the UK original—essays, match reports and scorecards, compilation of records, obituaries and quirky chronicles.
Easily the most outstanding feature of this 760-page volume are the essays, some of which go beyond the boundary, both in space and time, and entertain even as they illumine the action within.
Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie’s The backside of Lord’s is a delightful account of what it’s like to live within cheering distance of the Lord’s cricket ground. When she is working, she says, the TV is on mute. “If the wind direction is right and the Lord’s crowd near capacity, their cheers come through the open window—the sound somewhere between the roar of a wave and the whoosh of car tyres speeding along a road—and I can swivel around and, thanks to the slight lag between event and transmission, actually catch the bails flying or the ball leaving the face of the bat to bring up that century.”
While it is de rigueur for the purist to bemoan the dumbing down of the sport wrought by the IPL phenomenon, the fact remains that IPL has benefited young cricketing talent in the country by opening up career options. In The IPL Generation, Anand Vasu narrates the fascinating story of 28-year-old Thiyagarajan, who used to open the batting in the first division of competitive cricket in Chennai. The pragmatic youngster demoted himself to the second division in order to “improve his ball striking skills”, and within a year of the move, succeeded in snagging a contract worth one million rupees with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Bishen Singh Bedi’s tribute to Tiger Pataudi, and Sanjay Manjrekar’s piece on Sunil Gavaskar are lively and affectionate accounts of how the legends had inspired the writers in their respective lives and careers. Javagal Srinath’s piece on Kapil Dev is resonant with what the former cannot or would not say about the impact the latter had on his career. Srinath coyly admits to having competed with the great all-rounder, nothing more.
In Why the richest is not the best, the evergreen Ayaz Memon gamely attempts once again what every cricket writer worth his word count has tried at some point and given up: appeal to the nobler and saner side of the gents who run the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He writes, “…the mindset of the administration too has to be tweaked – from constantly looking to fill its coffers to constantly seeking results and excellence.” Good luck with that, Ayaz.
The only disappointment in this otherwise excellent volume are the tour and match reports, many of which are tame narratives of what happened, offering little of the insightful touches that one expects from Wisden. The report on India’s tour of Australia last year, for instance, makes no reference to the most glaring (and for the fan, most frustrating) feature of India’s 4-0 drubbing: in match after match after match, despite repeated failures, not once did India make a single change in its dysfunctional batting order. Young Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane warmed the benches right through a Test series that we lost 4-0.
The match report on the third Test in Perth, where David Warner scored a murderous 180 and India lost by an innings and 37 runs, asserts that Warner “sucked the fight out of India.” Interestingly enough, Warner said after the match that “he felt the pressure” when he went in to bat. “If this is what pressure made him produce,” says the Wisden writer, “one shudders to think what he will do when his mind is calm”. Now, this is exactly the kind of facile rhapsodizing that you don’t want to see in a quality match report.
Warner was not fibbing when he said that he felt the pressure. India, who batted first, was bundled out for 161 because the Perth wicket really was difficult to bat on. It was slightly easier for Australia, but even then Warner was very cautious to begin with, and kept playing and missing. Then he did what he does when under pressure—he tried to hit his way out of trouble.
When a player of Warner’s caliber swings the bat, there is a decent chance he would connect. And he did a couple of times. Immediately Dhoni took away the slips and spread the field, taking the pressure off, and making it way easier for Warner. If anything sucked the fight out of India, it was poor captaincy. Had the Indian skipper kept faith in his pacers, we could have been more competitive than we were. By switching to a defensive field prematurely, any chance of an early breakthrough was as good as forfeited, and the Aussie openers put on a massive partnership of 214, effectively taking the match away from India. A little less enthusiasm for eloquence and a little more for close observation and analysis would have considerably improved the tour narratives.
Like all great reference books, the Wisden can be read from cover to cover or dipped into whenever the mood strikes you. The section on records is ideal for browsing when you’re on the couch watching IPL and there’s a commercial break. Did you know, for instance, that in first class cricket, the third highest career average in the universe, next only to Don Bradman and Vijay Merchant, belongs to Ajay Sharma(10,120 runs at an average of 67.46)? Or that, of the three fastest triple centuries in the history of international cricket, two are by Sehwag?
Personally, the record I found the most interesting was the highest percentage of team’s runs scored by a player in his Test career. As you would expect, right on top is the greatest—Don Bradman. The Australian scored 24.28% of all his team’s runs during his career. At number 3 is Brian Lara, who accounted for 18.87% of his team’s runs. Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t find a mention in this list but it would be an interesting exercise to see where he stands on this one, and also the several Indian batsmen who would rank above him.
The chronicles section, of course, is rich in intrigue and entertainment. Here’s a gem, sourced from a national newspaper: “Navin Mendon, 37, of Lokhandwala, has failed to regain full use of his voice after cheering himself hoarse during India’s semi-final win over Pakistan during the World Cup. Doctors said his vocal cords had been abused.” And here’s a typical it can happen only in India story: “The Bombay high court has started investigating a complaint by two alleged terrorists that they had failed to appear for a hearing because the policemen supposed to be escorting them were watching an IPL match.”
If you love cricket, and nothing but cricket, the Wisden India Almanack 2013 would be a nice companion to have by your side when you sit down to catch your next IPL match. I did just that, yesterday. And whenKarishma Kotak asked Kings XI Punjab’s Manan Vohra about nightlife in Chandigarh, I picked up the thick, fat volume and threw it at the TV. Luckily for me, I missed.