Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Celebs’ Category

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.

The schizophrenia around Narendra Modi

In Celebs, Culture and Society, Politics, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Agreed, Narendra Modi is a polarising figure. But like all clichés, it has zero explanatory value, offering little insight into the Modi phenomenon. What it does, rather, is to induce a kind of schizophrenia in the public consciousness about a man who, apparently, is two different people. But Modi isn’t two people—the Modi who spoke of empowering women at the FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) forum on Monday is the same person was the chief minister (CM) of Gujarat when scores of Muslim women were raped and killed in the communal carnage of 2002.

The enthusiasm for Modi among those who subscribe to the Hindu supremacist ideology is understandable. But there are many who pay lip service to religious equality and yet assert that Modi is no longer the political animal that was the CM of Gujarat in 2002; they would have you believe that he has magically transformed from a communalist demagogue into a clean, decisive politician who would offer leadership, integrity and good governance. Well, here’s the thing: this is nothing but a self-serving delusion.
If there is one essential quality of a true leader, it is the ability to inspire trust. Look up any article on leadership in the Harvard Business Review—and see if you can find a piece that does not list trust as an essential leadership trait. Given Modi’s track record, an obvious question to ask would be: Can India’s minorities entrust their safety and well-being to a man who refuses to take responsibility for the communal carnage that took place under his watch as Gujarat CM? This question did not come up at FLO and I haven’t heard it being asked of Modi at any other industry forum either, which is odd considering that both business and communal riots take place in the real world, and this is a question of effective governance.
Am I saying that Modi can never be trusted as a national leader? Not really. He can still establish himself as a great leader who can be trusted to provide good governance. But there is only one way to do it: by taking responsibility for his failure in 2002. How does he do that? He needs to, at the very least, empathize with, if not apologise to, and seek the forgiveness of, the riot victims’ families. But we know right away that he never will do anything like this, which is why it comes up less and less these days. (In fact, a Modi apology has become such a laughable notion for so many that it was presented as an April Fool’s joke by a news portal last week.)
The very moment we accept that Modi has never acknowledged the 2002 riots as a failure on his part is the moment the good governance argument in favour of Modi stands exposed for what it is: a lie. It can either be true or false that Hindu supremacist violence is good for business. If we go by the ‘success story’ of ‘Modi’s Gujarat’, then it must be true that violence against minorities has been good for development as we have defined it. At any rate, it does not seem to have had a negative impact on business growth—otherwise influential sections of India Inc. would not be pro-Modi.
So if, as a businessman and/or a decent human being, you want Modi on the national stage, then you have to acknowledge either that A) you are indifferent to the fate of the minorities; or B) you really believe they deserved what came their way in Gujarat in 2002. Since neither of these positions is compatible with the political and social values of respectable public discourse, which still holds that murder of minorities is bad, you have no alternative but to turn schizophrenic in order to be able to believe that Modi will be good for business and also protect minorities.
It is a testimony to how far the mainstream national consensus on Modi has shifted, and how successful Modi’s image managers, Apco, have been in disassociating Modi from his past, that today you can barely bring up 2002 without being branded either a Congress stooge or a ‘commie’ or just a spoilsport bore. But take away the schizophrenia, and the reality stares you in the face: the Modi of 2002 is the Modi of 2013, and he is fully capable of ‘allowing’ again what he ‘allowed’ in 2002. How can we be sure of this? Two reasons: one, it has worked for him; two, he has gotten away with it, so far.
Many commentators point out that India is not Gujarat; that Modi has ‘evolved’ as a leader, and can never do as PM what he allegedly did as CM in 2002. But that’s precisely how schizophrenia works—it forgets, and then alters reality to fit the delusion. By endorsing Modi for a national role, we are communicating a simple message to the man: your central government can do in the future what your state government did in 2002, and we, as a nation, won’t hold you to account, just as we’ve not held you to account for 2002.
Consider: some thirty years after the Holocaust, Israel was still sending out death squads to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Germany still does not want to forget its Nazi past, which is why it has a Holocaust museum. We, however, are in a hurry to forget what many respectable forums have termed ‘genocide’ even though it’s been barely 11 years.
Maybe all the perfumes of propaganda will finally wash away the black spot of 2002 from Modi’s record. After all, it was the same Modi whose government revised the state’s higher secondary school textbooks to glorify Hitler instead of condemning him. But George Santayana’s oft-quoted dictum has been proved true by history many times over: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is only one way to make sure India does not repeat 2002: keep harping on it.

Stop insulting Yo Yo Money Singh

In Celebs, Politics, Popular Culture, Satire, Uncategorized on October 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm

To call our PM a “tragic figure” is not only insulting but also inaccurate. As it turns out, it wasn’t the Washington Post (WP) as such but historian Ramachandra Guha who called him that. Oh wait, Guha said what he did, not to the WP but to an Indian publication, Caravan. And hey, he said it not now, but in 2011.

But nobody made a fuss in 2011. So why now? (Clue: name of the paper). Right! The Washington Post is a white man’s newspaper, published from the white man’s HQ. And we neo-colonials know instinctively that when the white man talks, the brown man must listen.

It is amazing how short public memory is, but hey, India was a colony till recently – it was still one when our PM was born in 1932. Here’s what that good and intelligent man Jean-Paul Sartre had to say about the political leadership of newly independent former colonies: “The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture … After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing to say to their brothers; they only echoed.”

Today, it is Sartre’s whitewashed adolescents (Manmohan was thoroughly whitewashed in the “mother country”— in both Cambridge and Oxford) who have hijacked what somebody once non-jokingly referred to as “India’s tryst with destiny”. Discarded now are the ideals of social justice and equity that informed the vision of our freedom fighters.

Reading the papers everyday makes you wonder: Why did our forefathers drive the Brits out? I wasn’t there when it happened, but here’s my guess: because the white man was looting India’s wealth, especially natural resources; they were giving a hard time to most Indians, especially farmers; and while a small class of native businessmen did well for themselves, millions starved, and thousands of political activists went to jail; the colonial police massacred innocent civilians, and forcibly evicted ‘native peasants’ from their lands, pushing them deeper into destitution.

I can’t see that things are any different now, under our own ‘brown rang’-ed PM, Yo Yo Money Singh (no relative of Yo Yo Honey Singh, but related to three mega-scams: CWG, 2G and Coalgate). Having embraced the Western model of capitalism, but without the luxury of colonial plunder on which to build its capitalist infrastructure, India is at a crossroads where it faces the prospect of cannibalising itself, eating parts of its own body politic — such as adivasis (or religious minorities). Talk to the average CEO, and his attitude to India’s tribals would echo that of the white coloniser’s toward the ‘natives.’

The reasons for terming our PM a “tragic figure” are predictable: one, corruption has proliferated under Singh, and guess who’s to blame – the degenerate natives; and two, the PM has slowed down on economic reforms, meaning that he’s not taking proper care of the white man’s money, which should be freely allowed to come into this former colony and profit from its resources.

One of the worthies quoted at length by the WP article is Tushar Poddar, a Mumbai-based managing director of Goldman Sachs, that illustrious standard-bearer of destructive capital which had a starring role in the 2008 financial crisis. WP quotes Poddar as saying “[The 2009 election] was a victory for him, but he did not step up to claim it — [Manmohan’s] lack of leadership, that lack of boldness, lack of will — that really shocked us. That really shocked foreign investors.”

That’s what it’s all about: foreign investors. FDI in retail, anyone? Yo Yo Money Singh is a “dithering”, “ineffectual” and ultimately “tragic” figure because, in recent times, he’s been a disappointment in his assigned role. And pray what was his assigned role?

In The Wretched of the Earth, the great post-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon showed how the national middle class’s “historic mission” is that of the intermediary. “Seen through its eyes,” he wrote, “its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the mask of neo-colonialism.”

Singh’s designated role, as the chosen (but never elected) representative of the national middle class, was to function as an intermediary between the nation and foreign capital, in Fanon’s words, to be “Western bourgeoisie’s business agent.” Seen from this perspective, it’s obvious that Singh has done a terrific job, but the greedy white man and his native brown counterpart want more, and they want it now! Though Singh has done a lot, he cannot do everything because, well, India is a democracy, you know? It’s not his fault, really.

So let’s not insult the PM any more – he’s just a child of history. He’s served his masters well. Now he has to move on – hence the timely nudges from the CAG, Team Anna, and of course, the white man’s press (Washington Post, Time, The Independent et al).

He has to make way now for another man, someone less likely to be hindered by democratic forces, someone who will not display the “lack of boldness” or “lack of will” that so “shocked foreign investors”; someone who’ll show “leadership” given the tougher tasks ahead – such as crushing revolting natives with an iron fist, showing no weakness; see issues only from the investors’ point of view; and show the working classes and minorities who’s boss. Something tells me this man is already here. Clue: he has a beard too.

 

G Sampath is an independent columnist based in Delhi.
He’s reachable at sampath4office@gmail.com

10 questions you wish somebody would ask Sachin

In Celebs, Cricket, Humour, Popular Culture, Satire, Sports, Uncategorized on July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm

There is only one thing more boring than a Sachin Tendulkar interview, and that is a self-proclaimed Sachin fan ‘defending’ the man from the 0.00001% of the media that dares to criticise him.

The past week has seen newspapers excreting massive interviews with the selfish gene-cum-genius. And the general format remains the same as always: cleverly flattering questions followed by seriously vapid answers.

Since I am in the enviable position of never having to call Sachin for a quote ever again, and never having to ingratiate myself with the numerous cockroaches that survive on the branded crumbs that drop off his table, I would like to share a list of 10 questions that I have waited for somebody to ask him, in vain. If anybody can get him to answer these questions, I hereby publicly undertake to buy anybody a drink.
So Sachin, here are my 10 questions:
1. In 1999-2000, Indian cricket was rocked by the match-fixing scandal. You were a key member of the team that was captained by Mohammed Azharuddin, and Ajay Jadeja was your teammate. But you didn’t say a word. When asked why you remained silent, you said: “The only reason I did not speak about it is that I didn’t know anything about it. I would have given a statement if I knew something.” So are you lying, or are you being a cretin when you say that you had no clue about match-fixing going on?

2. The whole world knows that you (and subsequently MS Dhoni) are the reason the BCCI has been stonewalling the ICC’s move to make DRS (Decision Referral System) mandatory in all international fixtures. What exactly do you have against the DRS? Is it that, without technology, the benefit of the doubt (especially on LBWs) goes to the batsman, and you, knowing that there will be far more LBWs with DRS than without, don’t want technology messing with your averages and milestone-hunting?

3. You are richer than anybody can ever want to be. Why then are you forever, and shamelessly, asking or accepting favours from the government? Be it having to change the law (Customs Act) so you don’t have to pay duty on an obscenely expensive luxury vehicle, or petitioning the government to relax the FSI regulations for your bungalow in Bandra, why can’t you just graciously accept the rules that apply to everyone else instead of cashing in on your celebrity status to seek favours?

4. For most, nay, all, of your adult life, you have been a very influential person, with access to the highest corridors of power. Yet, not once in your life have you ever taken a stand on any issue — not even on sporting ones. Do you then seriously expect to make a meaningful contribution to any of the debates in the Rajya Sabha? If not, why did you agree to become a Rajya Sabha MP?

5. And having become a Rajya Sabha MP, you say ‘cricket comes first?!!’ What were you thinking? That being a Member of Parliament is a nice hobby or what?

6. Why is your captaincy record so abysmal? If your cricketing intelligence is so great, and if you are a thorough professional, and if you are a nice guy, how can you not be even an average captain, like, say, Anil Kumble was? You’ve got to have something that the other guys don’t have for you to be such an extraordinarily poor captain. What could this be? You ever think about that?

7. Against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup this year, you crawled to your 100th hundred (114 in 147 balls on a flat track against a bovinely gentle attack) at 4.5 runs an over, and actually slowed down in the slog overs when the team’s interests dictated that you score faster. And it was because of your milestone obsession that we lost the match to Bangladesh, which cost us a place in the final. This is not a one-off incident, but the culminating irony of a long career marked by the relentless deployment of individual talent for individual glory, though last I checked, cricket was a team game. Now that you’ve got every record in the book, will you, at least in the last remaining matches of your career, either stop playing for records, or stop paying lip service to how you are a team player — because it’s too brazenly hypocritical to do both?

8. Why is it that when the chips are down, and India is chasing, you never (save the Sharjah hundreds way back in 1998 on a flat track) ever take India home? Don’t say, ‘check the records’ — because the records tell me very clearly that you’ve never single-handedly (like Dravid did in Adelaide or Laxman did while batting with a number 11 to take India home against the Aussies) taken India past the finishing line in your 22-plus years of international cricket. And what kills me is that you had the ability to do exactly that — if Yuvraj could, Laxman could, and Dravid could, so could you. But you never did. You just cannot bat for the team under pressure, is that it? Or is it that you never cared for the team as much as you claim to?

9. I’ve been pondering this one for ages. How did you become such a boring person — open your mouth and everyone goes to sleep?

10. This is an easy one. Do you like journalists who suck up to you?

G Sampath is an independent writer based in Delhi sampath4office@gmail.com inbox@dnaindia.net

How is Manmohan Singh different from nuclear waste?

In Celebs, Environment, Politics, Social Commentary, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

G Sampath | Saturday, March 3, 2012

First published in DNA
In one of her talks in Mumbai that I attended some years ago, Arundhati Roy posed this question to the audience, or maybe she was quoting from a Hindi poem. She asked, ‘Kya kar raha hai Manmohan Singh aaj kal?’ As the audience tittered, she answered, ‘Vish kya karta hai khoon mein utarne ke baad?’ (What is Manmohan Singh doing these days? What does poison do after it enters the blood stream?)
I don’t remember the context in which she made these comments, but it is an apt description of Singh’s doings over the last couple of weeks. A man who is, according to popular perception, ‘weak’, ‘a puppet’, ‘silent’, and ‘timid’, roars into life just when it matters most. Matters most to whom is the billion dollar question (pun intended).
The last time Singh displayed signs of possessing a vertebral column was in 2008, when he actually threatened to resign if the India-US nuclear deal did not happen. He eventually pushed it through despite the majority in Parliament (the much-vaunted ‘mandate’ of the Indian people) being against it. And we all know about the cash-for-votes scandal that accompanied the trust vote over the nuclear deal.
This time, once again, it is for the nuclear lobby that Singh has rediscovered his tongue and spinal cord. In an interview with the American journal Science, he has made uncharacteristically malicious allegations about the people’s movement against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, suggesting NGOs funded by US and Scandinavian donors are backing the protests.
If the NGOs connected with the anti-nuclear agitation have diverted foreign funds, sure, they need to be dealt with as per the provisions of the Foreign Currency (Regulation) Act. But is that the issue here? What I find rather pathetic is the reptilian manner in which Singh has successfully shifted the Kudankulam debate away from the real issues (like cost, safety, and the absence of an independent nuclear regulatory regime) to a non-issue (foreign-funding of NGOs).
One might well ask: Is it the protests against the Kudankulam nuclear plant that is funded by foreign money, or the plant’s advocates, namely, Singh and his government? Who exactly are the foreigners here? The guys building the plant are Russians. The nuclear fuel for the reactors will also be supplied by foreigners, maybe Americans, who are now eligible to do so, thanks to Singh’s nuclear deal. As for the man maligning the opposition to the project, well, Singh is undoubtedly the most foreign money-friendly PM in India’s history.
And who is the PM accusing of taking money from foreign hands? The protesters opposing the Kudankulam nuclear project. And who are they? Fisher folk, farmers, shopkeepers, Dalit workers, beedi-rolling women, and residents of Kudankulam and Idinthakarai villages. These fishermen and workers have been forking out small donations in cash and kind to sustain their simple, nonviolent struggle. They don’t need big money to keep their protests going simply because it’s a matter of life and death for them.
But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that foreign money has gone into sustaining these protests, does that make the protests illegitimate? The government has the entire resources of the state at its disposal, not to mention a compliant media ready to offer crores worth of media space for pro-nuclear, pro-state propaganda. Setting aside the legality of it, don’t the poor villagers of Kudankulam — the David fighting the Goliath of the corporate state — have a moral right to access whatever financial support comes their way, be it from within India or abroad?
Having said that, Singh has not produced a shred of evidence to back his insinuation that the Kudankulam protests are aided by foreign NGOs. And now, following his lead, the Maharashtra State Congress has begun to allege that the protests against the Jaitapur nuclear project are also backed by foreign NGOs.
Basically, the idea is that the state will have a monopoly over virtue, just as it has a monopoly over the use of force. And the lever that will enable the state to retain this monopoly is the notion of ‘national interest’, which assumes centrality in the emotionally charged discourse of patriotism. Violent protests will be dismissed as Maoism or terrorism or separatism, all crimes against the Indian state. And non-violent protests that threaten to upset the corporate applecart can be dismissed as foreign-funded and hence anti-Indian. And, of course, who can dare argue with patriotism?
But what a strange and schizophrenic patriotism this is, which believes India cannot grow without foreign money or FDI, and welcomes foreign capital in the form of a Monsanto but launches a witch hunt against NGOs that may campaign against Monsanto using foreign money.
Much has been made of how Singh is supposedly ‘clean’. In reality he’s no different from a Raja or a Koda — only, his corruption doesn’t take the form of graft. Singh’s corruption is the corruption of a functionary, of someone who can stoop to any level to please his political masters, or mistress, as the case may be, and this somehow strikes me as far more ignoble than the corruption of someone who is merely greedy or power-hungry.
In a matter of just 20 years since liberalisation, unleashed, incidentally, by Singh in his avatar as finance minister, the world’s biggest democracy has devolved into a banana republic where a bunch of thugs can easily murder freedom of expression and get away with it while it’s almost impossible to express dissent or protest in a meaningful manner. The Indian state, and foreign capital, whose domestic help Singh is, have it all worked out. The poison is doing its job well.

Why not make Arnab Goswami Prime Minister?

In Celebs, Humour, Popular Culture, Satire, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:49 am

G Sampath | Saturday, February 18, 2012

First published in DNA
No, I am serious. I don’t watch his debates every day, but whenever I do, I am struck by his absolute and unimpeachable commitment to national interest, his love for the people of India, and his fearless examination of every issue to its last possible TRP.
Nobody, not even the BCCI, which denies everything, can deny thatArnab Goswami is the only person in the country to whom every Indian is answerable.
Our politicians, at any rate, hold him in higher regard than Parliament. Which is why you will see them in his channel’s studio more than you see them in Parliament. Whether or not they take part in parliamentary debates, they dare not bunk the debates conducted nightly by Arnab Goswami. And no matter how provocative the questions posed to them, they won’t dream of staging a walk-out from Arnab’schambers like they do every 13 minutes in the Lok Sabha.
Besides, India today is a nation full of outrages — inflation, malnutrition, scams, rapes, the Indian Test team’s ridiculous performance Down Under, SRK becoming brand ambassador of a state whose name I can’t spell anymore, a minister watching porn in a country where nobody watches porn — the list of outrageous phenomena is endless. AndArnab has mastered the art of being outraged. He is the only person I know who can be more outraged than outrage itself.
And that is a talent that our current crop of politicians sorely lack. Nothing fazes them. Poverty? Nothing new. Corruption? Ho-hum. Army atrocities in the north-east? Nothing new. Inflation? Well, let them eat soap. But Arnab? He can extract outrage from a dead cockroach. “Who is responsible for the mysterious death of this innocent cockroach, Mr Prime Minister? The nation needs to know. Was the cockroach really a member of the Indian Mujahideen, as is being claimed by intelligence agencies, or was he another loyal follower of my TV show who spontaneously combusted in uncontrollable outrage?”
Besides, if not Arnab Goswami, who else? Sachin Tendulkar, you say? Well, Sachin is not a bad choice for Prime Minister. His impressive selfishness, his distinguished track record of putting his own interest above that of the collective’s, and ability to amass massive personal milestones will gel perfectly with the prevailing ethos among our Parliamentarians. But one thing that may not work is his voice — sweet as it may sound to his trillion fans, it will get drowned in the well of the House before he can say ‘100’.
My mother thinks Rahul Gandhi should become PM because he is less ferocious and more handsome than Arnab Goswami. But honestly, looks aren’t everything, are they? After all, who does the PM have to woo? Only foreign investors, not Sunny Leone. And foreign investors hardly go for looks, and neither does Leone, on available evidence.
In any case, what are Rahul Gandhi’s credentials? His biggest achievement to date is to grow a beard, which, to his credit, he has done with superb skill, foresight and political acumen.
His beard is a metaphorical representation of his profound grief at the plight of India’s malnourished millions, the Dalits, the adivasis, and the suicide-committing farmers, all of whom have been waiting for 60 years for the barest essentials of life, like FDI in retail, lower taxes for corporates, and fiscal discipline, which any day are more important than utopian, outdated, commie ideas like food, health and education for all, even for those who can’t pay for it.
But the other, much-discussed alternative is also a beard, but one attached to the face of a man named Narendra Modi. This year — this month, next week, in fact — marks the tenth anniversary of the singular event that propelled Modi to power, and today has him being spoken about by respected industrialists and journalists-turned-party intellectuals as the ideal PM for India. To be sure, Modi would be no more communal than the Congress worthies who kept Rushdie out of the Jaipur Lit Fest and presided over the 1984 Sikh riots. But still, if you are a pseudo-secularist, you’d expect at least appearances to be kept up, andModi’s track record, combined with his calculated, unrepentant, humourless anti-secularism is — I won’t deny it — infinitely scarier than even Arnab Goswami at his scariest.
So that leaves only Rajinikanth, who, with his newly acquired six-pack abs that you surely could not have missed in all the Kochadaiyaan posters, is more omnipotent than ever before and can demolish every obstacle in India’s path to superpowerdom with a flick of his little finger or a click in Photoshop, whichever applicable.
All said and done, he is the only real contender that Arnab needs to worry about. I would settle the matter by calling both of them to a duel on Juhu beach one Sunday morning. But the duel will be fought using only words and gestures, without bodily contact. Whoever wins will, I am sure, be the best Prime Minister India’s ever had.
While Rajini might vaporise Arnab with his laughter, Arnab might pre-empt it by unleashing on Rajini his finger-wagging verbiage of infinite outrage. In which case, Rajini, whose compassionate heart melts at even the tiniest, teeny weenie injustice, would collapse instantly into a heap of sand, and Arnab would emerge the winner. But it would be a close call.

Tendulkar should retire only when God retires

In Celebs, Cricket, Humour, Satire, Sports, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:45 am

G Sampath | Saturday, February 4, 2012


First published in DNA
I am so enraged that I can barely even type. I am absolutely, gloriously, magnificently appalled that someone of the stature of Imran Khan should have the gall to suggest that Sachin Tendulkar should have retired after the 2011 World Cup. How dare he even suggest thatSachin should ever retire! Does God retire? For Indian cricket fans — every single one of whom is also a loyal Sachin fan — this is the moral and cricketing equivalent of someone outraging their modesty. That too in public. And for free.
If I was a lumpen element and could get a visa to Pakistan I would personally ransack Imran Khan’s office for offending my religious sentiment.
Really, does Imran have any idea what Sachin means for India? Is he aware that every timeSachin goes out to bat, he carries a billion hopes on his helmet? Is he aware that no Indian cares whether India wins a match or not so long as Sachin scores a hundred? And this is when you are speaking of a ‘normal’ Sachin hundred.
But what is at stake today is not any Sachin century but Sachin’s hundredth hundred! CanImran imagine how many orgasms an Indian cricket fan gets by merely contemplating this feat? Does he not know that a billion Indians forget all their problems, such as poverty, corruption, and parking space, the moment they see Sachin on screen — even if it is onlySachin poking and prodding at a fifth-rate spinner on a first-rate batting track? Does he know how many Indian commentators and sports writers have made their careers by praising Sachin endlessly and tirelessly? Does he now expect them to start sucking up to some callow youngster who is less than half their age and doesn’t know how to respect elders?
Imran Khan is wise enough to know these things, which is why I find it hard to understand his comment. And it’s not just Imran. Last week, the former Indian bowling coach, Bruce Reid, remarked that all three — SachinDravid, and Laxman — should retire so that India can groom youngsters for a strong team in the future. Hello! When will the world understand that in India cricket is not a team game? The two teams that play are merely a sporting framework, a platform, where individuals go out and create personal milestones, break records, and keep playing till such time that there are friends in the board who can ensure you keep getting selected, and friends in the media who will raise such a stink if you are dropped that no selector will dare drop you.
Besides, the three oldies have given their services to India for so many years now that theBCCI cannot be so ungrateful as to sack them just because they have stopped performing. You cannot force someone to retire on the basis of such flimsy reasons as lack of fitness or lack of form. And to insinuate that a player should retire just because he is getting old betrays the worst form of ageist prejudice.
Come to think of it, the double standards we apply to our cricketers are scandalous. While every other profession enjoys a retirement age of 58, why should our players not play till they are 58? Imagine how many more centuries Tendulkar can score if he played till 2032! Not less than 400! And if we are getting so excited over his hundredth hundred, imagine how fantastic it will be if Sachin (who has never hit a 400, by the way, though the mediocre BrianLara has) scores a quadruple century of centuries!
As it happens, India is not scheduled to play any Tests abroad for the next two years, which means there is no urgency for the oldies to retire at least for the next two years. And if we don’t play abroad ever again, they don’t need to retire at all — ever!
That is why I believe that from now on India should play only at home. If we do that, and if theBCCI has the foresight to schedule Test matches only against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Holland, Canada, and Uzbekistan, I am sure Sachin will be able to play till he is 58 and acquire more milestones than anyone else in the history of not just cricket, but of any sport — he can become the one sportsman with more records to his name than any sportsman in any sport anywhere in the world at any time, beginning with the Olympics of ancient Greece. In fact, why restrict his greatness to the field of sport — he can even become the one human being with more records to his name than any human being who ever lived or lives or will live. Imagine how proud it will make all of us Indians!
But it’s not enough even if we continue to select him for the Indian team till the general retirement age of 58. We should give him special extensions till he is 100 years old. The crowning glory of his career, and the mother of all his records, will be when Sachin — with the help of a walking stick if need be — becomes the first man in the history of the universe to score a hundred at the age of 100. What a stupendous record that will be! Of course, that is assuming he would have got his hundredth hundred by the time he is 100. But even thinking about this gives me goose bumps in my tennis elbow.

Does Kapil Sibal sleep in the nude?

In Celebs, Humour, Politics, Satire, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

G Sampath | Saturday, December 10, 2011

First publsihed in DNA
I am not gay or even bisexual. But all of a sudden, every night this week, I have been having deeply objectionable dreams about Kapil Sibal. How objectionable, you ask. Well, let me assure you they have nothing to do with either the 2G scam or the Lokpal bill.
But they were very, very, very, very objectionable. They were so objectionable that I ended up offending my own sentiments, both religious and non-religious. And, dear reader, I am not at all sure I can describe them to you without offending your sentiments too — especially your aesthetic sentiments. So let me put it this way: Imagine Vidya Balan’s role in The Dirty Picture being played by Kapil Sibal, wearing those same costumes, and enacting those same sequences with Naseeruddin Shah and those other fellows. Well, it was sort of like that, but really dirty.
Usually I can never remember my dreams. When I wake up, I have a vague sense that I have had some powerful dreams, but the imagery always escapes me. I am guessing it is some form of censorship at work. But what bothers me now is that this oneiric censorship mechanism has stopped working ever since Kapil Sibal began invading my dreams.
So I have been waking up every morning with high-res images of Kapil Sibal swirling in my brain. And believe me when I say these are really disturbing images, for somehow he never wears anything in my dreams. A fashion writer friend of mine tells me people in dreams are generally seen wearing whatever clothes they go to bed in. So does that mean Sibal sleeps in the nude? Even if he does, does that give him the right to enter my dreams uninvited, and outrage my modesty by displaying those of his assets in which I have no interest whatsoever?
To make it worse, he is never quiet. I know, he is never quiet in real life either. But in my dreams he is forever quoting his own poetry. Two nights ago, for instance, he recited this poem while doing sit-ups:
I am Kapil Sibal, and I have a lovely fat ass
And I tell you no offensive comments can you pass
So if you tweet that I’m an idiot or a cretin
I swear you’ll never be allowed to get in.
When I heard it, I was scandalised, but I kept my counsel. But he wanted to know my opinion of his poem. I pointed out that ‘ass’ did not exactly rhyme with ‘pass’. He took offence at my feedback. ‘You fool,’ he said. ‘Which world are you in? What matters is how they speak in America, which is where all our policies are made anyway. For Americans, ‘ass’ does rhyme with ‘pass’. You bloody Indians will never get it.’
As you can imagine, scenes like this hardly make for a pleasant dream. Besides, such dreams with adult content were deeply offensive to my satvic sensibility. But I was helpless as I did not know how to suppress Sibal’s night-time incursions into my unconsciousness. So I was quite thrilled when I heard that Sibal was seeking pre-censorship of virtual content.
For those who don’t know, pre-censorship is censoring the content you want to censor even before it comes into existence as content. According to media reports, Sibal met top executives of companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft and told them to find a way of screening and thus preventing disparaging comments or imagery about himself or his ilk from appearing on the internet. (Normally what happens is they first appear, then some idiot takes offence, and they are taken off.)
One report said Sibal was anxious about pre-censoring ‘obscene images of Indian political leaders.’ I knew instantly what was on his mind. It was the same thing that was on mine. I would not be seeing ‘obscene images of Indian political leaders’ in my dreams if only I had access to some form of pre-censorship, whereby I could censor my dreams before they were dreamed by me. So I was really hoping Sibal would get these executives to do his bidding; find a way to suppress objectionable content before it finds expression. Surely the technology could be developed and applied to dreams too? After all, the dream world is just another form of virtual reality.
But the executives let him down. They told him pre-censorship was impossible because Facebook has 25 million users in India, and Google, 100 million. And Iast I checked, I had about 100 billion neurons in my brain, and on a given night, any one of them could slip a placard into a dream that says, ‘Kapil Sibal is a big fat moron who loves wanking.’ Now, what can I do about that?

The importance of being a celebrity

In Celebs, Culture and Society, Popular Culture, Social Commentary, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 9:56 am

G Sampath | Saturday, August 20, 2011

First published in DNA
Who hasn’t sat through a panel discussion and come away irritated by a speaker’s waffling responses to direct questions? It happens all the time on TV.
The anchor might ask a politician a simple question like ‘What is your name?’ And the neta would go, ‘First of all, let me point out that I’m not the only MP who has a name. Why don’t you ask the PM what his name is? Anyone who wants to know my name is welcome to pose that question to the people of the country.” If you have absolutely no life, and spend your evenings watching Kapil Sibal on television, you’d know what I mean.
Well, last week, I was moderating a panel discussion between three novelists at a literary event in Bandra. Towards the end, I opened the debate for a Q&A session. I wasn’t expecting questions to come my way, and most didn’t. But eventually one did, and it was directed at me because I’m involved with the book review section of this newspaper.
The question was: why do books page editors give excessive coverage to celebrity authors, often at the cost of lesser known but more deserving writers?
It was a simple question. But I wasn’t sure how to respond because the answer lay beyond the media space — in the socio-economic realities that shape editorial decisions.
To begin with, celebrities are a post-modern phenomenon. They are manufactured, just like toothpastes, automobiles and condoms. Our society employs an army of professionals to churn out celebs: publicity agents, journalists (many of whom are publicity agents in disguise), advertisers, TV and film producers, marketing professionals, photographers, etc.
A celeb performs three functions that are essential to keep a consumerist society running despite all its pathologies. Firstly, celebs focus our mind on the self as opposed to society. By being portrayed as selves to aspire to, celebs make our own selves seem inadequate.
But while they make your life feel somehow ‘less’ than what you deserve, they also convince you that you can become a celebrity yourself, provided you embark on a course of self-improvement — by buying ‘solutions’ to your problems. Thus begins the cult of the self — the ‘if you believe it, you can do it’ kind of mumbo jumbo.
What this achieves is to keep people’s attention away from how the system is rigged so that only a certain kind of person, with certain privileges, is favoured to ‘reach the top’. This is the second function of celebs: they validate a hierarchy of selves, with celebs at the top, and the rest at varying rungs below, depending on their access to power and pelf.
Obviously, not everyone can be at the top, which means the fetishising of competition, as opposed to mutual aid. It is no accident that celebs started proliferating in India only post-liberalisation, when a nation opened up its markets and shut down its conscience.
This dynamic is at the root of my discomfort with even a celebrity like Arundhati Roy, who is often spoken of as the conscience of India’s middle classes. Roy has written eloquently, and often, on tribal issues. But someone like Gladson Dungdung, a little-known activist, who is himself a tribal, does not command similar space in the media even though his is arguably a more authentic voice. At least, nobody can accuse him of ‘adopting’ the cause of tribals — an accusation often flung at Roy.
So this is how the hypocrisy works in a celeb culture: you will rarely give space to anyone who is not a celebrity; and when a celeb speaks for those who are seldom heard, you discipline her by accusing her of speaking for ‘other people’.
So this is the third function of celebs: they’re a means to enforce ideological discipline. You see it in the sham talk shows on news channels, where detergent-sellers pontificate on India’s foreign policy; and in the opinion pages of newspapers, where the banalities of ‘big names’ muscle out voices low on ‘celeb quotient’.
So, the honest answer to the question of why celeb authors get more space than lesser-known but more deserving writers is this: because the media is an enormously undemocratic space, with a hierarchy of voices. But this was not the answer I gave. I waffled. I said, “You should first ask publishers why they bring out crap books by celeb authors.”
Kapil Sibal would have approved. (He is a published poet, by the way.)