Friday, 15 February 2008


We certainly are an enlightened bunch of people! Who cares about Raj Thackery's ruckus in Mumbai. "Oh dear me, all this politics is so boring!"!!! How much more interesting is Rakhi Sawant's 'fight' with her boyfriend on Valentine's Day on a national news channel(Headline Today). We must know all that was said and done between the two even though I doubt the guy in question was her actual boyfriend (I mean who would want to be abused on national TV unless he was a paid lout!). Not only must we know, we must also make STD and ISD calls so our voices may fill the airwaves and for 15 seconds we may no longer be anonymous nobodies of no consequence. Through all this we never stop to ponder the logic of what is happening or even wonder at how the new cameras managed to get to Rakhi's house at the precise moment of the fight.

I was at a cafe with my boyfriend for 2 hours and this is all we saw on the television scree n in front of us. You would think, in this day and age, with so much happening, news channels would have something sensible to telecast or that even if they wanted to give nymphets like Rakhi Sawant her 2 minutes of fame, they would restrict it to the aforesaid 2 minutes. But no they must go on and on about it.

Maybe I belong to the old school but I sincerely think journalists and news channels and papers can do so much more than they do. With the technology and access that we have today, they could do a much better job of what the earliest of papers did so painstakingly. But no, they must loiter with their cameras and microphones outside Rakhi Sawant's house!

Then again it is not just about the channels or papers. It is also about those who want to mindlessly watch this again and again, gaining a sort of voyeuristic pleasure out of the whole exercise. Why and for what earthly good are the questions that pop into my head at this point!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A Li'le Poem For Us

10th Feb , 2008. 2330 hrs.

Moonlit stripes – across a face and onto the wall

Gentle and serene nightfall in hinterland

The cold of winter and the warmth of love mingle.

A hand changes the face of the world for me

Makes me feel so beautiful

A beauty created of itself and for itself.

The warm stripes of the morning sun

My hand swishes open curtains in welcome

But there’s warmth beside me too, welcoming me to the morning.

Beauty unknown and unsought

Love unasked for and found

Selfless and selfish.

In the time that I was most content

I found what I had searched for in vain –

A lifetime to live and love – Together!

And so I think, in those first rays of the morning,

As we often lose an object finding it only when we need it not,

Such is love.

Like a flash of lightening,

The sun that peeks after the rain,

Like the wetness of the rain contained within.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

The Economics of Identity

In response to a comment made on the previous post on nationalism, I personally think that the safety and comfort factor comes from the fact that a concept like nationalism gives a group of people a common identity to ascribe to. In doing so, they also assume that their interests are best served by protecting the group. Not only is it necessary to protect one's own group but also to fight for resources etc. against other such groups - basically a zero-sum game situation (it is assumed that all resources operate under a zero sum game while it may actually not be so).

It is only when we realise that the fight for resources need not be a zero sum game that the discrimination on the basis of identity is like to reduce or disappear. I think we are still a long way from that because we still trade preferentially with some groups over others. International politics still gives greater weightage (more often than not) to the identity of the trading nations as nations and cultures as opposed to looking at their needs and ability to produce as well as pay for what they consume.

Until economics is played on an egalitarian footing (I don't mean this in the sense of all countries having equal wealth but in the sense of economics not factoring in identity variables into transactions) I don't think that this notion of "my culture/country/caste/religion is better than theirs will wither away.

Boundary Less-ness

My brother and I have been having an interesting conversation following a post of his on his blog. So am copy pasting the post as well as the conversation following it (in the form of comments). It is interesting and I could hardly re-write it any better. In a certain way it is not just a question of nationalism or identifying with one's country but also with how we see and understand ourselves. It is really a much larger debate and the outcome is debatable and unpredictable. It would be interesting to see where all the "boundaryless-ness" of cyberspace leads us in terms of thinking about and understanding ourselves as human beings.

Nationalism - Time to move on?

As India celebrated its 59th Republic day this last Saturday, I was struck once again, as I often am, by the fervor with which we Indians assert our "Indianness". Maybe this is just an illusion, but I do find that Indians on the whole are much more patriotic than a lot of other communities. We want to do good for India, we want to help "Indians", we want our country to succeed, become a global power, have a soaring economy... We are an extremely proud race, proud of our history, our diverse cultures, the fact that our civilization is so old, etc etc - and yes, some of these are, indeed, pretty remarkable things.

In the larger context though, I find myself less and less inclined towards nationalism/patriotism towards one particular country. I do strongly believe that, though few people realize it, nationalism really is a thing of the past, and is a largely redundant concept in today's increasingly global world. I think nationalism was a wonderful way in the past century for people to form their identities, to rise out of slavery and colonialism, to come together under the common banner of a country, attain their independence, and gain a sense of self-worth. But I think the need for nationalism pretty much ended there - and the future we are moving towards is one where I believe the concept will eventually cease to exist the way we know of it today.

There are already glimpses of this - the European Union being the biggest example, with a number of "countries" coming together under a common banner, as they realize how interlinked they really are. And it would do us all a world of good, I think, to pause for a bit and muse on how dependent we are on the rest of the world today. Every basic need of ours is met by things that are probably made on the other end of the planet. We communicate with people all over the world, exchange information at unimaginable rates across vast spaces. Really, if you think about it, our very existence is intrinsically linked to a huge network of people all over the world. And this is something that's very much a development of the last 50 years or so - one could not have said this at the turn of the last century.

So why does nationalism still linger on? Why is the first question on our minds when we meet someone still "Where do you come from?" I believe the answer to that is the fact that nationalism gives us all a strong sense of identity. It is easy for me to concretize my "Indian" identity, as opposed to my global, human one. And a sense of identity is so important to us all, isn't it? And this really, i believe, is at the root of all our forms of categorization of people - on the basis of race, religion, creed, caste, sex, nationality - this need to associate a distinct identity with oneself, and identify other people who attach the same identity to themselves. And its all right having an identity for oneself - but the problem really arises when we use it to categorize other people, judge them, and use it as a means to differentiate between people.

So where does this end? In my opinion we will see a visible decline in nationalism as more and more people steadily realize that they do share a common identity with every other human being on earth - that of being human, and a creation of God. The shared sense of a common, interlinked existence and a common spiritual purpose to life is what will truly bring people together, and break all these barriers of categories we've set up for ourselves. Countries will continue to exist - but will be mere administrative units. And preserve our diverse cultures we will, and maintain our individuality we will - but the realization that fundamentally we are all one, and that our most basic identity is the one that connects us with every other soul on this planet, and with God, will enable us to truly accept each other as part of one global family.

"We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations....That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled... Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the "Most Great Peace" shall come.... These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.... Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind."

Nithya Ravi said...

Hmmm... interesting and while I agree that nationalism in the jingoistic or patriotic sense is becoming rather dated because of our interdependence on and our interaction with people from all parts of the globe, I think nations will linger on as a way of expressing cultural identities.

Also, I think the need of distinguishing ourselves as unique is very strong which is why we adopt multiply multiple identities which identifies us with some people but distinguishes us from others, making the whole combination unique and thus, setting each one as distinct from the other as an individual. So even if the identity of a nation fades, something else will always take its place.

And the problem is not with the identity or classification itself but with how we use it to discriminate, stereotype, dominate and exploit. Therein lies the problem and not in the fact that these identities exist because ultimately things like sex, religion and caste are only means of concretising the abstract known as existence.

January 31, 2008 11:33 PM

Blogger Nikhil said...

Agree totally with all that - and i agree that nations will continue to exist as administrative and cultural units. But I must again reiterate that over time I do think it will cease to be the strongest part of our identity - which it still is for a lot of us. India is a difficult example because even at the micro level these things are a strong part of our identity - not only does it matter to us that we're indian, it also matters which state we're from, what religion we are, etc. A better example is the US - Americans can be very very patriotic and nationalistic. But it doesn't matter that much which particular state they're from, for example. That for me, is a reflection of what nationalism will (or at least, should) become one day - where all these boundaries still exist, but they don't matter that much. And it would still be a part of our identity as we see it, but we would not allow it to discriminate against others, as our shared common identity as i described it would be more valuable to us.

February 1, 2008 7:12 AM

Blogger Nithya Ravi said...

Sure... but my argument is essentially this that if not nationalism, there will another identity that will become equally powerful, evocative and discriminatory because identities or ideas of the body as a social construct is how we identify ourselves.

So it is, from a purely philosophical and academic point of view, not important which identity occupies that position but that AN IDENTITY does.

History has seen a long succession of such identities from caste to religion to language... the nation is probably the most abstract of these identities so far because you can't really define it (it transcends the geographic definition of a state as well). Blood has been shed in the names of all these identities sometimes to a greater degree and sometimes to a lesser degree. There is a certain cyclicity to it only that the level of complexity increases with the level of abstraction that one invests into the identity.

February 1, 2008 9:50 AM

Blogger Nithya Ravi said...

PS: this conversation makes for an interesting post in itself... maybe you should copy paste it beneath your original article... or with your permission i will do so on my blog.

February 1, 2008 9:51 AM

Blogger Nikhil said...

sure there is something that does and always will form our identity - but its not just circular. Let's take an example. Fifty years ago, in India, your identity was not just that you were an Indian, but also included which part you came from, what your religion was, what your caste was, your subcaste, your family name, etc. Today we've shed some of the more micro-level identities, but still hold on to some large ones. You and I dont hold on to all the things our parents hold on to as a part of our identities. So its not just cyclical - but sort of spiraling outwards, where our identity is, as you said, becoming more and more abstract and high level. So the next stage in that, I think, is developing a global, human identity. And who knows what after that... :)

I'm not contending, therefore, that we will lose things to hold on to as part of our identity - I just mean that what we hold on to will eventually become more high-level, and hopefully reach a stage where we won't have to discriminate amongst each other on the basis of that.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Discovering, Refreshing and Rejuvenating

Yesterday at 6:30 in the morning, I was not snugly curled up in my bed as I usually am. I was sitting in a bus and we were on our way to a place some 270 kms from MICA called Tejgarh in the South Eastern part of Gujarat. Tejgarh is part of a tribal belt and the place we were to visit was the Bhasha Adivasi Academy. The academy was started by an individual by the name of Ganesh with the vision of empowering tribals. The academy runs a post graduate program in Tribal Studies as well as certificate courses in Health, Education, and Administration.

On reaching the academy we interacted with the student and faculty there. To me the most amazing part of the whole experience was to actually see a place that was actively and effectively empowering a marginalised community to be a part of our so-called Urban Modernity if they so wish to be. And the work of the academy is perhaps far more fruitful than any number of reservations that the governments in this country can make for it allows these people to choose the manner of their assimilation; it allows them to perserve their own culture and value systems while at the same time giving them the skills and tools to be a part of post-liberalisation India. The people who have passed out of the academy work in villages and in the academy itself and help empower others from their community.

The interaction also helped dispel many pre-conceived notions about who tribals are, what makes them tribals, their value systems, way of life and practices. Tribals are not necessarily half-naked people dancing around fire and talking in 'primitive' languages. As Sonal Behen there said, "I can where a saree or a jeans and talk in English or Hindi but what really makes me a tribal are my beliefs and the social practices." This I think holds true for all of us and our community identities. We belong to a community not because of the appearance but because of the history, the shared pasts and values and beliefs.

The other interesting experience I had yesterday was in translating the experiences of the people we interacted with from Hindi to English for the rest of my classmates. It was engaging, challenging and for the first time I really understood the meaning of the phrase "Lost in Translation". To be responsible for what others understand and learn is an indescribable feeling not only of a certain power but also responsibilty. It also made me listen more keenly and engage with the people there and establish a rapport.

We also went to see ancient cave paintings and tribal artefacts museums at the Bhasha Center. But more on that in another post for I am now running out of patience and steam.

P.S: Will upload photos as soon as I have collated them.