Saturday, May 9, 2015

Are we safe anywhere?

I’ve been in a cynical, depressed kind of mood today, people. I keep saying to myself, what’s the point? Look at this Salman Khan thing. The man goes scot free (yes, yes, suspended sentence of 5 years, boo-hoo for him) because he’s a famous actor and because the person he killed was a nobody. Now if Salman Khan had managed to run over Shah Rukh Khan, I’ve a feeling things would have run a very different course.

Squabbles are erupting online on the rights and wrongs of it. But bottom line is, he’s been granted bail and is now happily ensconced in the lap of his family; having thumbed his nose at society and all its rules.

Some people are saying, so many hit and run drivers (the funny part is, few people dispute that it was Salman Khan behind the wheel; despite his devious attempts to implicate his own driver) escape prosecution, why should poor Salman be the scapegoat? Or, why in the world do homeless people sleep on pavements and make things difficult for drunken drivers?
A person, yes, poor Noor Ullah Khan, died. However much you argue and excuse and rationalize; shouldn’t there be some kind of accountability for that? And yes, all the other murderers out there should be brought to book as well, not only poor ol’ Salman bhai. (Watch where you step the next time he decides to do a spot of drinking and driving; see how wronged you think him when you’re being mowed down.)

Similarly, all the loose, simply moronic opinions about rape bandied about by people who think they are safe from any such attack; all boiling down to the seductively simple “it’s always the girl’s fault, somehow.” She shouldn’t have been out so late. Without a man to “protect her”. WITH a man (what a slut). She shouldn’t have been wearing that. She shouldn’t have been in that part of town. Or, the best yet – it wasn’t rape.

So many people simply LEAPING to see the rapist’s side of things, refusing to see that yes, some things are black and white. Simply right and simply wrong. Some things are that simple. Because the moment we start seeing grey shades of “mitigating circumstances” everywhere -- where does it all stop? And though most of the people I know are mercifully schooled in political correctness; privately everyone believes there are extenuating circumstances for absolutely everything.
Until it happens to YOU.

The examples I give here are of ‘have-not” victims. So, we comfortably think, as we settle back on our satin cushions, this could never happen to us. But in a world where EVERYTHING can be rationalized away, how safe are we from being the next victims, really?
Tomorrow, You -- tall, strapping, fit upper class male -- are jogging down the street with your earphones in your ears; and someone jumps you from behind and does unspeakable things to you, simply because he can. What stand would you like for society and the whole law-enforcement machinery to take? It was wrong and your perpetrator will be caught and punished? Or, why were you there? Why were you dressed so expensively? If you weren’t listening to music couldn’t you have heard him coming? Why did you fight back? Maybe you did something to tempt your attacker? Let’s FACE it, weren’t you a little bit culpable?

If you cannot TRUST society to take a firm stand that crime is crime and victims should be defended, what is the point of being part of society? Isn’t everything we do, based on this trust? If one cannot trust the people around you not to attack you every time you step into the street, how is one to function? Is one an idiot for buying something on the trust that it is genuine? Can one drop one’s child to school everyday, unless one has a little bit of faith in human goodness that he will be looked after even though his parents aren’t watching?

Our whole human existence runs on trust.  And it is the state’s function to reinforce that trust (with the threat that abusing that trust brings punishment, very few questions asked). If not, all is chaos. And we might as well all disappear into the woods before we start sneaking into each other’s houses and murdering people as they sleep, (“she was offensive about my d├ęcor yesterday, and it annoyed me.”) if that is the way we are headed.

This image of an anarchic world may seem alarmist to you. But in my opinion, it all starts with people shrugging their shoulders and saying “it was the victim’s fault for being there. He/she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”, and ends with -- the law backing such people up.

In such a world, where can you be safe?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Problem with Facebook


(This was a piece I wrote for a friend's pujo magazine last year. I think enough time has elapsed for me to put this up on my own blog without any objections. What's up with the formatting?) :)


I was asked to write a piece for your Pujo magazine, but I kept putting it off. Today on the last day before my deadline expires, I am ashamed to say that more than writer’s block, Facebook is to blame.
Facebook is really the bane of my existence. Free time is at a premium -- being the mother of a 3 year old. Still the urge to steal a peek at my phone for my Facebook fix is like an itch at the back of my mind; burning, burning, until I scratch it. I am glad to say, when I directly interact with my daughter (which is most of her waking hours), I refrain from giving into the itch; hating the thought of being one of those parents who have their noses pasted to some screen or another, while their poor children clamour for attention. But the moment I hear a soft baby snore, or when she is fruitfully engaged in singing ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’ to her teddy bears for the 25th time on a loop, I confess to sneaking off with my phone, putting my feet up with a delicious sigh of gratification and logging into Facebook.

But like any other addiction (I have another one – chocolate) once you have glutted yourself on Facebook, you are left with a curiously empty, useless feeling – leaving you wondering what the big deal was about.

Because really, really; what possible joy can a person get from all the obviously posed, carefully selected and (often photo-shopped) “candid” pictures of her friends? The latest is everyone making a face into the camera – “Look at us, we’re such whacky, fun people! Don’t you wish you were closer friends with us?”

What pleasure can one get from reading the carefully constructed status updates about how wonderful their lives are? Or, by looking at how wonderfully disciplined their kids are because…look how well they pose! And not a single runny nose in sight! Like an angel in perfect health!
Far from joy, it is more like self-flagellation. You log out and wonder, why don’t WE ever go to the Fiji Islands? Why don’t I have the figure to wear that gorgeous black dress? Why didn’t I think of taking pictures of my writing out that check to an NGO a month ago?

Apart from causing a severe case of heartburn, it is a phenomenon that brings out the very worst in people. This is the platform for otherwise cleverly concealed character flaws to be taken out for a bit of exercise and fresh air.

I have a very conservative “friend” count of 400 people. Of whom I am barely on actual speaking terms with 20. (I have been sent “friend requests” by neighbours in my complex, and have accepted their requests with a warm rush of affection thinking, “She likes me after all! I thought she hated me! Now we can be friends!” And you make plans of tea parties and outings to Coorg in your mind, until you encounter the same neighbour near the gym of your complex and she walks right past you as your cheery ‘hi!’ dies on your lips.) Of those 400 “friends” (And I use the term in the extremely loose, FB sense) I have:

  1. 20 exhibitionists: Putting up pictures which really, really, REALLY should’ve stayed locked away on their laptops forever. Or status updates about how MUCH they love their spouses, their kids and their pets in toe-curlingly embarrassing language. “I wuv you, my peekie boo!”
  2. 50 whiners: They will whine and cry and complain every hour, on the hour about…everything. “I was doing wheelies on my bike on a crowded road when all of a sudden I hit this car from nowhere. I broke my leg (and sent all the occupants of the car to hospital) please pray for my speedy recovery…why is my life so hard??? What is more annoying is how many people will rush to sympathize (“You poor baby! What kind of a country is this, that one cannot do stunts on a crowded road in peace?”), I wonder what instinct propels them to it.
  3. 20 Sycophants (wish there were more) also known as the ‘Likers’: They will shower you with compliments, and just when your self-esteem begins to rise you are hit with the horrible realization that they compliment everyone indiscriminately, in hopes of a quid pro quo on their own page. They are under the mistaken impression that likes and comments can be exchanged and hoarded like currency, and guard and count every one of them as zealously as a miser with his gold.
  4. The out and out liars (about 10, mercifully). They will lie to get attention, sympathy, likes and comments. They will make extremely tall claims for those 20 “Congratulations” comments and 100 likes. Well knowing that there are many who have seen it and know that they’re lying about getting the Nobel Prize for Astrophysics, or being voted the 15th Panchen Lama by a deputation of visiting monks.
Whatever is the hot topic at the time, especially of the tragic persuasion, they will claim to have experienced it; so that they can divert some of the ongoing sympathy on the issue.
They will post nauseously sentimental (same as group 1, but with a twist) status updates about a toothless brother (I love my toothless brother so much, I can’t bear it), to draw the “aww, you’re such a good person that you love your brother despite his not having all his teeth” crowd. They seem not to care that half their friends list knows that let alone a toothless one, the person concerned doesn’t even have an average, non-tragic, uninteresting brother.

  1. And last but unfortunately the least -- the barely-there Facebookers. I have begun to envy this lot so much I can’t tell you. I had a friend who has gone straight off Facebook and stayed there. I often fantasize about doing the same thing, just to get away from the aforementioned lot.
In fact, you know what? I think I will; since all these types bother me so much. It’ll probably save me enough time to read at least five more books (good) a month and eat countless bars of chocolate (not so good).

But before that, let me check my Facebook account one last time and count how many likes I garnered for the attractive picture I posted of myself from 15 years ago. (but THEY don’t have to know that!)

Have a wonderful Pujo everybody!