Monday, October 30, 2006

A NEW ME: Ten Prescriptions for Changing Myself

Note: This post has been published by Blogbharti.
A dentist-friend recently emailed me a few prescriptions on how I should go about changing myself. Not surprisingly, he holds me singularly responsible for my father's ouster from office. [Papa's government was voted out of power from Chhattisgarh in December 2003: thus began our family's over three-year long 'winter of discontent'.] As things stand, he is not alone in thinking so: Ms. Saba Naqvi, writing for the Outlook magazine, described it rather succintly as 'son-stroke'. I am taking the liberty of publishing these prescriptions followed by the ATR (action taken report) in brackets. I hope that readers of this blog will be gracious enough to offer similar constructive suggestions of their own.


1. Change your photo of a dreamer to a smiling one in your blog site.[What do you think of this one?]

2. Don't write too much on your site, keep it short and simple - so that people can understand and correlate you with themselves. [Visitors will note that posts have gotten shorter, and the language simpler]

3. Don't project yourself to be a cut above the rest - example your favourite movies, music or books you have read/written, to tell you bluntly - no one is frankly interested, all your Orkut friends will try to flatter you, citing your vast knowledge. You should try to project yourself as a normal human being, with whom people can resemble themselves. People of Chhattisgarh don't understand French, they understand Chhattisgarhi. [Interests are listed to form associations with like-minded people; nothing else]

4. Try to win peoples heart rather than trying to brainwash and hijack the brain of 'Boley - Bhaley' people of Chhattisgarh. [How does one win people's hearts? I thought the best way to go about it was by being absolutely honest: telling precisely what I feel. This is what I've done in my blog.]

5. It is not necessary that you serve the people of Chhattisgarh if/when you are in power. When in opposition, your voice is heard more, and seems to be genuine, it's the right time for image building. [Totally agree]

6. It will look as opportunist when you start saying something just 1 year before elections, people's memory is not short, esp. in Chhattisgarh. [Yes]

7. Explain/Describe 1 point at a time, in simple manner to the people, to make it reach their heart. This mistake was done by your father too, I think, so much was tried to explain to people in such a short span, that always it went over their heads. In his first term itself, he opened all his cards. The upper caste people became afraid for their existence in the state. [see point no. 2]

8. No doubt you raise voice for tribals in the state, what about people of other communities, who have worked hard and grown here. If you are a projected leader of Chhattisgarh, you have to represent everyone. Raise voice for upper caste people too, sometimes they are also deprived of justice. [Yes: when specific instances of injustices are brought to my notice against anyone, including people from 'the upper castes', I make it a point to raise it. See for instance, the blog entry on 'A Killing in Dornapal', which describes the killing of a Bengali shopkeeper by a soldier of the armed forces]

9. Move in a two-wheeler, everywhere in Chhattisgarh, (except Bastar) [For a variety of reasons, I am not allowed to drive. Also, I don't own a car. So I have to depend on friends for my transportation needs. Despite warnings to the contrary, I do not have security. The two-wheeler idea does sound good though, if my family- especially Papa after his accident- will permit me]

10. Time is less, Congress is fast loosing ground in Chhattisgarh. It is getting 'Disconnected' and 'Disoriented' from the common man at a fast pace. The Kauravs have again started spreading propoganda at public places against Congress. Who else except you, has to rise, seize the opportunity and show people the way...[If anything has to be done, we have to do it together. I cannot do it alone. I realize my limitations]

to be continued.. Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Title: Self in Technicolor
Date: November 11, 2005
Place: High Security Cell, Raipur Central Jail
Artist: Amit Aishwarya Jogi

Title: Self in Technicolor- Sepia imprint
Date: October 29, 2006
Place: Anugrah, Raipur
Artist: Amit Aishwarya Jogi

Title: Trial- At the Court of III ASJ Mr. Shiv Mangal Pandey
Date: November, 2005
Place: High Security Cell, Raipur Central Jail
Artist: Amit Aishwarya Jogi

Title: Cellular
Date: November 11, 2005
Place: High Security Cell, Raipur Central Jail
Artist: Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

PLAY: (A) Indian Express on Chal Bé Kapadé Utar

Note: Today's Indian Express newspaper carries a feature on my forthcoming play entitled Chal bé kapadé utar. It was written during the time I was incarcerated in Raipur Central Jail, and is being directed by Mr. Rajkamal Naik of Koutuk. The sketch at the bottom is of Dilip Chhatri, C.O. (Convict Overseer), who is its principal character.

Express News Service

Meet Jogi jr, playwright post-prison

Nitin Mahajan
Posted online: Sunday, October 29, 2006 at 0000 hrs

Raipur, October 28: Chal be kapde utaar (go on, take off your clothes).” These are the words every new entrant in a prison here hears. This is also the title of a play by Amit Jogi, son of former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, who was an inmate of the Raipur Central Prison for about 10 months.

Amit had been booked for the murder of NCP treasurer Avtar Singh Jaggi.

The play, compiled from Amit’s notes during his 10-month stay at the prison, attempts to portray life inside prison. According to junior Jogi, the literary attempt is an effort to come to terms with reality; the inhuman environment, rampant homosexuality inside the prison walls and gang politics.

The characters in the play tell their own story. One of them is implicated for murder while another is an innocent person who has been booked under a false case and forced to spend the best years of his life in prison. Refusing to clarify whether one of the characters in the play was based on himself, Amit said he wanted to bring out the real prison life in a form accessible to everyone.

“Despite tall claims about prison reforms, the situation within the confines is shockingly different,” Jogi said.

“Once inside the walls, everyone feels naked as penetrating eyes are always looking at each and every action of the inmates,” he added, explaining the title. Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Thursday, October 26, 2006

POETRY: (A) Liable (translated from Hindi)

Note: In the translation, I have put the poem’s context in a distant past. The reason is simple: verses for the Hindi came to me while I- the man ‘in a box of wood’- stood in the courtroom. The English translation was done when those verses, once alive, had become stilled, in the solitude of my cell. [Photograph below shows 'a poet in court', courtesy The Hindu Newspaper]

Caught in a web of words
A worried man once stood
In a box of wood:
Drunk in Silence’s Embrace.

If he heard something, he nothing said
If he said, nobody anything heard:
The why O why
Did that Man’s shadow-
Like Moon fallen from the Sky
Upon a River of Tears- by itself flow
Through terrified vales
Of terrible tales?

As if he had known
From Centuries before
Destiny’s Destination.

Raipur Central Gaol,
March 3, 2006 Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Sunday, October 22, 2006

From One Computer to Another: Shubh Diwali, Eid Mubarak etc...

Note: This post has been published in Blogbharti.
A Dumbed-down Deepavali?

This holiday season, I shall not talk of the significance- the multiplicity of meanings- of religious festivals for our times, ‘when the globe has shrunk to about the size of a grapefruit’, or even the symbolism of ‘the happy coincidence’- it’s not every year that Diwali and Id are celebrated one day after the other- as a Divine Call to strengthen interfaith harmony against teeming mutual suspicions and xenophobias. I will instead deliberate briefly on the role of communications technology in transforming interpersonal relationships during festivals: put simply, I will look at the way the Internet- emails, instant messages (IMs)- and SMSs have changed the way we ‘greet’ each other.

Unhappily enough, I’ve been in bed: the consequence of a viral epidemic. Hence my capacity to respond to the countless emails, SMSs, scraps and messages I’ve received has become rather limited. As always, technology, the contemporary Super Man, comes to the rescue: all I’ve to do is type this down, and with a click of a button, everybody who I’ve ever known is blissfully reading this, soaking in the warmth of my good wishes- or not. This is where I’m wrong: the chances that anyone of my recipients will actually read all the way down to this is, for lack of a better word, zilch. I console myself: after all, it’s the gesture- the sentiment- that counts. They will at least know that I responded, if not how precisely I did so.

Three trends can be discerned from what I’ve just described. First, ‘content of communication’ has become secondary to the ‘act of communicating’ itself. We don’t read because we pretty much know in advance, even before the SMS icon flashes on the mobile screen, what to expect. It’s got nothing to do with empathy or even telepathy. The messages, they’re all the same. This brings me to the second point: much as I hate to use the expression, the commonality of content- the way one man’s received message becomes another's forwarded message, forming ‘message-chains’ long enough to cover the distance from here to that recently discovered but still unnamed planet beyond Pluto (in some cases, we don’t bother to alter the sender’s name from the plagiarized text-body)- is reflective of a collective ‘dumbing down’. Quantity, as we all know, cannot be a substitute for Quality.

Last and most troubling, I’m compelled to ask: has digital technology replaced personal obligation? Look at it this way, I might just be dead inside my bed, but my computer- that sweet, super-intelligent entity happily humming away on my desktop- will not fail in its duty to send you this, just as your computer or mobile will not fail in its duty to shoot off an instant reply. Machines greeting each other? Is this what our festivals have dumbed down to?

With that thought, I wish you Happy Holidays!

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Film Recommendations for Diwali and Id

Looking for God
I’ve spent this Diwali in bed, thanks to an epidemic of viral fever. My namesake, Amit Tiwari, brought home three DVDs to keep me entertained during the few waking hours I’ve before the relay-course of medications begin to make me drowsy all over again: Woody Allen’s Match Point, Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica, and the French-Canadian filmmaker, Jean Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. Unlike his previous recommendations, all of them were quite simply brilliant.

Mr. Allen’s film marks a break from his earlier repertoire: Match Point isn’t an ‘intellectually funny’ movie; it isn’t even set in New York. Put briefly, it’s the story of a tennis coach who must choose between lust (his passion for a struggling American actress) and happiness (marital bliss with a wealthy British heiress): or as the character played by Jonathan Rhys-Myer says, between ‘good and luck’. Ultimately, for Allen, good- and God- don’t exist. What’s more: in this case, we, the audience, don’t want Him to intervene, even as Mr. Rhys-Myer’s character turns wickedly immoral.

Mr. Tucker’s Transamerica explores the cross-country relationship between a transsexual woman, played superbly by Felicity Huffman, and her newly found bisexual hustler-son, played by Kevin Zeger. The scene when Ms. Huffman tells Mr. Zeger’s character that she is really his father is to die for. Again: Mr. Tucker, like Mr. Allen, irreverentially shuns all moral judgement, in what is essentially a celebration of Freedom of Expression.

Mr. Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. is a sympathetic film about the childhood and youth of a Quebec man coming to terms with his sexuality, especially with relationship to his conservative family, which includes his parents and four brothers. The title of course is a tribute to Patsy Cline’s number, and becomes a character in itself in the movie. Once again, God remains notably absent; or if He does make his presence felt, it is in a most enigmatic- but ultimately redeeming- way.

I recommend them all highly.

Happy Holidays!

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

SHOWCASE: Anuj Sharma on Chhattisgarhi Film

फिल्म समाज का आइना होता है. जब मुझे अपनी पहली फिल्म "मोर छइंया भुइंया" (M.C.B.) का ऑफर मिला था तब मैंने कहा था कि "मैं धोती बंडी पहनकर गले में गमछा डाल कर पेड़ के किनारे नहीं नाचूँगा" और मैंने फिल्म के लिए मना कर दिया था. दूरदर्शन ने जो आम जनता के बीच एक छत्तीसगढ़िया आदमी को प्रेसेंट किया था वो या तो लेद्गा था या भकला,इसी बात ने मुझे भी इस जवाब को देने के लिए मजबूर किया था. जब फिल्म M.C.B. ने परदे पर एक साधारण छत्तीसगढ़िया परिवार की कहानी को दिखाया तो कहीं ना कहीं हर छत्तीसगढ़िया को ये कहानी अपने से जुड़ी हुई लगी, और फिल्म को अपार सफलता मिली.छत्तीसगढ़ी फिल्म में दर्शक जिस अपनेपन को देखने के लिए जाते हैं अगर उन्हें वो मिट्टी कि खुशबू नहीं मिलेगी तो फिल्म असफल ही होगी.
Anuj Sharma, film actor, in a post to JAI CHHATTISGARH

Translates as follows:
Cinema is the mirror of society. When I got the offer of my first film “Mor Chhainya Bhuinya” (MCB), I categorically said “I will not dance next to a tree, wearing a dhoti and a gamcha around my neck”, and refused to act in the film. The presentation of Chhattisgarhiya man as either a ledga (country-bumpkin) or a bhakla (nincompoop) by Doorsharshan among the common man compelled me to give this reply. When the film MCB showed the story of a simple Chhattisgarhi family on screen, then every Chhattisgarhi felt that its story is linked at some level with their own, and the film got unprecedented success. The familiarity which audiences expect when they come to see a Chhattisgarhi film, if they don’t get the smell of that mitti (earth), then the film will inevitably be unsuccessful.

To listen to this blogger speak to Anuj on the state of Chhattisgarhi cinema, listen to my Podcast of 26th July 2008.

अनुज शर्मा से मेरी बातचीत सुनने के लिए, मेरे २६ जुलाई २००८ के पॉडकास्ट को सुनें.
AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......


A Bengali shopkeeper, Shekhar, was shot dead at point-blank range at Dornapal yesterday by ‘unidentified assailants’.

This is what really happened: a jawan (policeman) of the Naga battalion entered the shop with the purpose of buying an undergarment; the shopkeeper asked him Rs. 30 for it; the jawan insisted that he wouldn’t pay more than Rs. 15; a quarrel broke out between the two; the jawan took out his weapon, and fired. The abovementioned sequence of events has been confirmed by reliable sources, including eyewitnesses, who wish to remain unnamed.

As of today, the entire district administration, along with a certain Mr. Kushwaha, a Salwa Judum leader and Mr. Mahendra Karma’s Number Two, has been camping at Dornapal, trying to ‘persuade’ members of Shankar’s family to lodge an FIR (First Information Report) against ‘unidentified person(s)’.

This is the first specific case of human rights violation, involving directly a member of the armed forces, to have come to light, if only because the victim is a non-tribal. The shocking aspect is that this killing did not happen in a remote village but in the largest SJ ‘base-camp’, where more than 7000 uprooted tribals are being kept.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Personal: Roza Iftar at Home

The photographs here were taken at the Roza Iftar party hosted at our Raipur residence, 'Anugrah', on October 7, 2006.

Seated (left to right) Chaitram Sahu, MLA (Bhatapara); Dr. (Mrs.) Renu Jogi; Mrs. Veena Seth, First Lady of Chhattisgarh; H.E. Lt. Gen. K.M. Seth, Governor of Chhattisgarh; Mr. Ajit Jogi, MP; Mohammed Akbar, MLA (Virendranagar); Amarjit Bhagat, MLA (Sitapur). This blogger can be seen standing between the two elegant Ladies.

This blogger serving 'biryani' to the Rozdaars.

This blogger greets the Rozdaars after Iftar.
AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Monday, October 16, 2006


Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the UPA leader and Congress President, addressed a public meeting at the Rajkumar College Ground, Raipur on October 14 2006. This was her first visit to Chhattisgarh after the formation of the UPA Government at Delhi. In her speech, she categorically said that 'a new approach' is needed to address issues raised by Naxalism; she also stated that development of tribal regions, and not guns, are the solution to what is principally 'a socio-economic problem'. [This incidentally is the conclusion- and recommendation- made by the AICC Task Force constituted by her to study various aspects and possible solutions of the Naxalite issue.]

Most political commentators noted that Mr. Mahendra Karma, the leader of state-sponsored Salwa Judum (SJ), found himself isolated: not one person from the Bastar delegation, including the two Congress MLAs (Mr. Kawasi Lakma from Konta and Mr. Rajendra Pambhoi from Bijapur) whose constituencies have been most affected by the SJ-Maoist conflict, supported the continuance of the Union's (read: Ministry of Home Affairs) support to SJ.

What I would like to know of course is this: will the tribals be allowed to return to their villages, if and when they are permitted the option of leaving SJ base-camps, in which they continue to languish under the most inhuman conditions? For unless that happens, there can be no end to the madness that rages in Dantewada.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Personal: Papa-Mummy's 31st

The photograph here shows (from left) this blogger, Papa and Mummy at an informal luncheon hosted at our Raipur residence to celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary on October 8, 2006. On the background wall, are two photographs of my late sister, Anusha.

I wish them many, many more happy years together!

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Restoring Muraliguda: The Tribal Bill, c. 2005

Note: This was the last article I had written before going to jail in July last year. It is reproduced here without any changes. The Tribal Bill is still pending passage by the Parliament. Certain things never seem to change.

Inset: A Young Bastar Maharaja

The end back to its beginning,
The beginning back to its end

Anusha Jogi,
“Aitia” (unpublished)


Mangoes the Size of Watermelons

Not far from Konta- the southernmost frontier of Chhattisgarh- is a tiny hamlet that has mangoes the size of full-grown watermelons, and just as juicy. To reach it, you’ve to take a left from the Dhaba- the only one on the Konta-Sukma stretch of the National Highway, and perhaps even more creditable, managed entirely by a group of robust women- and then go past the bombed-ruins of a Panchayat building and twisted-gnarled electric-poles until a point where the road suddenly ends. From here on, follow your nose, or if you’re instincts have already abandoned you, then simply listen to the sound of water until you spot a circular mud-hut with a conical bamboo-thatched roof. [This, as the erudite observer might have guessed, is- or was- a ‘Gotul’.] You’ve reached Muraliguda. Do not be frightened by the absence of humans. Just outside that hut, is a menacing-looking rod. Pick it up and start beating the animal-skin covered drum, hung from the centre of the hut’s ceiling.

A fraternity of adolescents should appear, equipped with bows-and-arrows. You know almost instantly that they’ve been out on a hunt: feathers still stick at the corner of one member’s lips, revealing that the creature’s consumption was accomplished in somewhat sloppy haste. Confront them for confirmation: tribals, as a rule, make bad liars. Then, if you’re really lucky and get them to trust you- as I did- they might even teach you how to shoot arrows. Spend some more time with them and you’d find your legs wrapped midway around a tall tree-trunk as one of them pours cold, white salphi into your gaping mouth from a vessel that is nothing but the sun-dried hollow of a pumpkin.

Now, isn’t that a Kodak-moment?

Scratch the surface, and the idyll cracks: none of these adolescents have heard of school; most of them haven’t been beyond Konta; malaria is commonplace; there isn’t one manned primary healthcare centre in a fifty-mile radius; the road exists only in one’s imagination; only recently, my salphi-offering friend’s mother died in childbirth. You want to do something- anything- to make their life less intolerable, but they tell you that there’s nothing one can do. Didn’t the Mahatma proclaim that ‘India lives in her villages’? Not here, in Muraliguda: India dies, many, many times over. Building that road, you see, would mean cutting down thirty-seven trees and trimming four hundred and sixty-seven branches. And the PHC and the school and the electricity, well don’t even think about it: whatever would happen to the Bastar-bison? And what of India’s future, the sustainability of our endangered ecologies, the continued survival of our species on this planet? Surely, saving the lives of Muraliguda-mothers and building a future for their children isn’t worth putting so much at risk? In a world where everything is about choices made after careful cost-benefit analysis, I guess not- but that’s not the point.

The betterment of Muraliguda- and thousands of other similar tribal habitats all across India- is not incompatible with conserving the environment, or saving our blue planet. On the contrary, it is necessary.

At the core of the current polemic on the proposed ‘Tribal Bill,’ lies the notion of a dichotomy- a ‘clash of discreet worlds’, to use the historian Felipe Fernandéz-Armèsto’s expression- between forests, and the tribes that have inhabited them since the antediluvian era. In my opinion, such an assumption is not only misconceived but also symptomatic of a misplaced sense of superiority: one, they- the forests and tribes- are not disparate entities, in a state of conflict; two, the presumption that tribes are incapable of looking after their own habitat, and that ‘the burden and the glory’, as President Kennedy so eloquently put it, of ecological-conservation is best left to others. This is not supported by historical evidence, which corroborates the operation of ‘punctuated deforestation’ in two distinct ‘epochs’: the transition from early to late Vedic period, marked by the increasing adoption of iron in agricultural-technologies, and reflected in a militarist-hymn celebrating Agni’s heroic march across the River Gandak. Secondly: the era of industrialization, when forests were transformed from ‘territory’ into ‘commodity/ market’. In both these instances, tribes were ‘victims’ of foreign incursions into their domains. Contemporary approaches to conservation have, so to speak, turned this evidence on its head, and depicted them as ‘villains’ instead. Perhaps, this has a lot to do with the portrayal of ‘tribes as savages’ in contemporary rationalist-discourse, which subscribes to the view that progress necessarily entails humankind’s control over nature’s vicissitudes and vagaries. In the pursuit to adapt nature to serve civilization’s need, culture becomes the opposite of nature. This depiction is not reinforced by available anthologies of anthropological data, which reveals a remarkable, if somewhat generic, affinity- one might even call it symbiosis- between the lifestyles of tribes and their respective habitats. For a tribal, the forest is more than territory or resource: it becomes anthromorphized into ‘Mother’, a living entity that gives and sustains life. Consequently, the act of deforestation- the reckless and more often than not, mechanized felling of trees- becomes much more horrific, brutal: the almost surgical mutilation of the Mother’s body. Embedded in this belief, is the hope of immortality, of not dying, but living forever, through one’s progenies.

This brief, somewhat ‘condensed’, introduction, however, constitutes a precursor to my argument: it dispels certain mythologies about the relationship of the tribes with the forests, and paves the way for a paradigm-shift, to employ Thomas Kuhn’s phrase, where ‘tribes are conservationists’.


Confucius in Abujhmar

The Tribal Bill, like all legislation, has two functions: corrective/ remedial and reformatory. Corrective, because it restores both the responsibility and the authority of forest-conservation to tribals, ensuring that they no longer- to quote the poet Virgil- ‘exchange their hearths for exile,’ and reformatory as it seeks to remove existing impediments that prevent the laying of roads, the building of schools and dispensaries, and the electrification of villages in tribal regions. Mr. Harish Salvé, Amicus Curiae of the Supreme Court and among India’s most effortlessly brilliant jurists, understands this. He is perturbed- perhaps even furious- to the extent that he has filed an intervention restraining Parliament from passing that Bill into Law: he feels, like most concerned environmentalists, that it will make the Forest Conservation and Wildlife Protection Acts- the twin pillars of Indian environmentalism- redundant, and open the ‘business’ of forests to rampant exploitation by poachers and the ‘timber-mafia’, who will only too easily find ways to dupe gullible tribes. In short, he views the Bill as a veritable sanction of deforestation.

The polemic on the Bill, therefore, appears to be polarized between two contradictory positions vis-à-vis the post-colonial nation-state and the environmentalists. The former views itself as ‘an instrument of progress,’ a position decipherable most prominently in the exposition of Nehruvian Socialism: without active intervention, it simply couldn’t metamorphose into the welfare state. However, its incursion into tribal-territory was novel, in that it had never happened before: from the beginning of history, the ‘state’ had, more often than not, been rather content with letting Tribes- seen variously as the monkey-people (vanarsena) of the Epics, forest-dwellers (vanyavasis) of Kautilya’s Arthasastra, primitive-persons (adivasis) of the Raj, and the Scheduled Tribes of the contemporary nation-state- be, allowing them to exist in exclusive, clearly demarcated spheres. [The Manavdharmasastra (or, as it is more popularly known, Manusastra)- arguably the principal treatise on the basis of which the subcontinental “homo hierarchichus”, to use the sociologist Louis Dumont’s term, has evolved- contends that in the event of conflict between its self-promulgated prescriptions and the prevalent customs of tribes, the latter should necessarily take precedence. Islamic historians, from Ziaud’din Bar’ni (Tarikh-e-Ferozshahi) to Abu’l Fa’zl (Akbarnama), scarcely refer to them, except when the armies of the Sultanate, and later, of the Mogul Empire, had to trespass these arduous territories, during their onward march to the Deccan. [Here again, the ‘northwestern tribes’, always a menace to rulers of Déhli, remain the solitary exception; but these weren’t exactly of indigenous origins.] Thus, for many millennia, the state and the tribes remained in “Discreet Worlds”.] ‘Environmentalism’ offers the antithesis of this position: the nation-state’s involvement is seen as corrosive, uprooting traditional tribal way of life, exposing them to new and sophisticated forms of exploitation, and as NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) activist Ms. Medha Patekar’s study of Mumbai suburbs revealed, also contributing to the proliferation of urban-slums by bringing about the forced-immigration of displaced peoples, in search of alternative sources of subsistence. This argument is not entirely without substance. Infact, I would add a further rejoinder to this chargesheet: the sense of displacement- of having becoming aliens in their own homelands- has made tribes willing receptacles for the nihilist pogrom of Left Wing Extremists (LWE): not surprisingly, the areas identified as ‘most sensitive’ by the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) are also among the most backward, in terms of ‘development’.

There is something to be said about the environmentalist-chargesheet: tribal disenchantment with the nation-state can be deciphered from a song, still fashionable among Bison-horn Maria tribe, which inhabits the Abujhmar (lit: that which can not be known) region of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh; the only one in the entire nation yet to be surveyed by the Surveyor General of India. Put simply, the song tackles the universal theme of what constitutes heaven and hell: “O you young ones,” hums the bard to the uninitiated, “Heaven is miles & miles of forests, full of mahua trees (from whose ripened flowers, an intoxicating brew is extracted), whereas Hell is miles & miles of forests, full of mahua trees, but with a forest guard.” Here, the simile with Confucian imagery is striking: heaven and hell are exactly the same place, instructs the venerable Confucius, with a bountiful banquet spread-out over an endless table around which are seated diners with five-feet long chopsticks; the difference is that in heaven, the diners know how to put their obdurate chopsticks to use, which is simply to feed each other instead of trying to eat with it themselves. However, in the Confucian instance, the ‘problem’, so to speak, is of the individual’s uncultivated nature; in the Maria song, it is situated specifically elsewhere: in the contemporary nation-state, of which the forest guard is perhaps the most visible representative.

[Yet another instance appears in the bureaucrat-turned-environmentalist Mr. BD Sharma’s recounting of an anecdote my father narrated to him. When the latter was serving as Collector of Sidhi- a small district in the Baghelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh- in the late 1970s, he took a particular liking for a remote tribal village Runda-Bhadora, then accessible only on horseback. Sitting around a bonfire with other tribals one summer night, he must have felt especially jubilant, and as is often the case with young Mandarins in far-off postings, also omnipotent. No wonder, he asked them to name the one thing they most wanted. After conferring for about fifteen minutes, they gave their answer. “Sahab,” they said, “if you can make it happen, then ensure that no do-nali (lit: double-barrel, but used here to refer to ‘the trousered-man’, or man wearing trousers) ever sets foot upon Runda-Bhadora.” Since this took place before the promulgation of the Acts of 1980, I take it as further evidence of a priori hostility towards the nation-state.]

I offer this illustration not to buttress the environmentalist-charge, but merely as a description of the dismal failure of the nation-state in achieving its objectives. Unwittingly, the state- propelled by the ideas of democratization and industrialization, the twin-vehicles of the Modern Age identified by the historian Eric Von Hobsbawm- has opened the ‘business’ of forests to a medley of competing entities: the invasion of their hitherto ‘discreet world’ by erstwhile rulers acting as intermediaries for a vote-hungry establishment; swayamsevaks waging a veritable crusade against missionaries; merchants and middlemen plundering their natural-wealth; private corporations; the State itself, with its massive mining operations and big-dams, and government-personnel, often of dubious repute, entrusted with implementation of its altruistic policies (and ofcourse, the environmentalist-activist).


A Plant in Nagarnar

No disquisition on the Bill’s polemic can be complete without stating both the descriptive (analytical) and prescriptive aspects of various positions: in the above survey, I’ve not touched upon the prescription offered by environmentalists, since this is a subject of considerable importance that needs to be examined separately.

When Mrs. Indira Gandhi enacted the Forest Protection and Wildlife Conservation Acts in 1980, she did so taking into account the existential-threat posed by unchecked industrialization and commercialization- call it greed, or lust- to our diminishing forest resources. In many ways, the promulgation of these Acts was a victory for environmentalism. A quarter of a century after their operation, a lot has changed: it would not be farfetched to say that the threat posed by an organized ‘timber-mafia’ has been considerably reduced; satellite imagery shows that India’s forest-cover might actually have increased; and there is widespread concern for, and awareness about, the environment. Environmentalism itself has become a powerful vector in the nation’s politics, with influential ‘lobbies’ of its own: it has emerged as yet another of Prof. Rajni Kothari’s ‘interest-groups’ albeit not quite as dominant as in certain other developed nations of the West.

However, there is a flipside to this: the prescriptive part of their argument supports a curiously anthropological solution for the tribes, denying to them the possibility of scientific and technological progress, and condemning them to perpetual primitiveness, of life lived in a human-zoo.

Broadly speaking, the environmental-lobbies oppose any effort on part of the nation-state to undertake development projects, both large and small, in tribal areas. The most controversial illustrations of this are Ms. Medha Patekar’s opposition to the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Valley Project on the Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border, as also Mr. Bahuguna’s campaign against the Tehri Hydel Project in Tehri-Garhwal in Uttaranchal: both these projects involve massive undertakings to dam rivers. In Chhattisgarh, particularly Bastar, pressure from environmentalist-lobbies led to the stifling of the Hiranar Steel Plant in Dantewada, the closure of the Bodhghat Hydel Power Project, shelving of the Dondilohara-Jagdalpur railway line, and the failure to start work on the Raoghat Iron Ore Mines. Collectively, these four ‘projects’ would have involved billions of dollars worth of investment, and generated more than enough employment for all tribal youth living in the area. Yet, for some reason, the conservation of ‘Bastar-bison’ has taken precedence over the welfare of ‘Bastar-tribes’. Indeed, while the state’s methodology in bringing development into tribal regions leaves much to be desired, it would be folly to condone such exaggerated environmental-evangelism.

Not all environmentalist-efforts have met with success: despite Mr. BD Sharma’s persistent efforts to create dissent among them, the tribes of Nagarnar were only too happy to accord consent, through their Panchayats, to the setting-up of a NMDC Steel Plant. In a rather fierce confrontation with some of the environmentalists opposing Nagarnar, Papa screamed “Don’t teach me what is good and isn’t good for the tribals.” He had a point: if the environmentalists had their way when he was about the age of those Muraliguda-adolescents, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Under the provisions agreed upon, atleast one member from every tribal household shall be gainfully employed in the Plant, medical benefits including insurance to be given to them and their families, and free education. Even before the Plant has become operational, a world-class hospital and school are under construction.

It would seem that in this particular instance atleast, success lies in failure.


Savaging the Civilized

[The phrase owes to Ramchandra Guha’s biography of the anthropologist Verrier Elwin.]

Conservation of tribal environments shouldn’t imply the exclusion of ‘development’ altogether, as environmentalists preach. Instead all development effort should incorporate, at its core, the following two precepts: first, the establishment of a constructive cultural dialogue between tribes and state-agencies that results not in a doomed ‘clash of civilizations’ but leads to a harmonious commingling, based on mutual respect for beliefs and lifestyles; secondly the development effort should create an economic partnership, where both ‘the burden and the glory’ are shared equally among them. With respect to Mr. Salvé, it is imperative that this approach to Conservation be given due primacy by the nation’s judiciary as well, which has of late proven rather receptive to subscribing to an almost unilateral version of environmental-evangelism to the detriment of tribes, who given their status, cannot afford to be heard. In this article, I’ve done my best to familiarize the reader with the two principal positions in the debate: after all, as the French say, “tout comprendre cést tout pardonaire” (lit: to understand all is to forgive all).

These then are the Facts. One: the presumption that tribes are gullible savages, incapable of conserving their habitat is not based in historical and anthropological evidence. Two: for as long as the forests have existed, tribes have been their custodians. Three: due to ‘extraneous’ factors- principally, the transformation of the forest as a ‘resource’- deforestation became rampant, endangering the very survival of our species. Four: deforestation went hand-in-hand with the physical, cultural and psychological displacement of tribes. Five: the displacement of tribes, and the resultant loss of identity, has made them susceptible to militancy in the form of Left Wing Extremism (LWE), which threatens the very integrity of India. Six: only the restoration of tribes to their preordained role as Custodians of Forests can restore the balance of Nature. Seven: this is precisely what the Tribal Bill proposes to do.

Whatever else may be said of them, the tribes of Muraliguda, indeed anywhere, do not belong in museums.

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
New Delhi

The author asserts his identity as a post-adolescent tribal.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Obituary: Kashi Ram: The March of the Blue Elephant

Note: The Hindi translation of this obituary can be also be read by clicking HERE.

With the demise of Kashi Ram, India has lost its strongest hope of having ‘a Dalit Prime Minister.’ I remember visiting him with my father at Delhi’s Ganga Ram Hospital almost three years ago: typically, he spoke with his eyes, at once vacant and watery. When we got up to go, he tugged at my hand, asked me to come closer, and whispered into my ear: “tumko ladna hai” (you’ve to fight).

Uncle Tom’s Savior

Mr. Ram’s followers claim for him the mantle of our nation’s most celebrated Dalit icon credited as ‘the father of India’s Constitution’, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. It is a comparison that he might not have wholly agreed with: no doubt, he was publicly unabashed in his devotion to the Cult of Babasaheb, even to the extent of raising it to a form of religion; yet this devotion wasn’t blind. His true greatness, in my opinion, lies in his ability to identify his Hero’s principal shortcoming: put simply, unlike Mahatma Gandhi who emerged as ‘the Sole Spokesman’- to adapt Ayesha Jalal’s evocative phrase for Mohammed Ali Jinnah- of the Indian National Congress, Babasaheb was a Leader without the backings of an Organization, which could take his message to every part of India. Mr. Ram spent the last four decades of his life doing his best to remedy this.

My father remembers him coming to Shahdol in the mid-1970s: at the end of his week-long tour of the remote Baghelkhandi district, whose politics is even today dominated by an endless and often ruthless struggle between Thakurs and Brahmins, he had run out of money to pay for his third-class railway fare to wherever he had planned on going next. What he did next reveals a lot about how he almost single-handedly gave birth to the Dalit Movement of India: at the break of dawn, he was at the Collector’s Bungalow, demanding- no, commanding- that its tribal occupant- my father- get him his ticket. The question isn’t so much about whether my father obliged (to set the record straight, he did) but much more significantly, why?

I found the answer as a post-graduate student at JNU while attending a late-night meeting of the United Dalit Students’ Forum (UDSF) along with the current head of the Indian Youth Congress. The speakers were African Americans delegates of the NAACP, come all the way from the United States of America, perhaps in quest of Solidarity with their Indian counterparts. They warned us about the pitfalls of becoming ‘Uncle Toms’, who are the most common- and in their opinion, ill-fated- products of Affirmative Action (or what is more commonly known in India as ‘Reservations’). In essence, an ‘Uncle Tom’ refers to persons who have risen up the socio-economic ladder riding on Reservations but rather than actively assist other members of their community, they spend more time and effort in trying to gain acceptance of the ‘elite’; or worse, begin to live in self-denial, by erasing from their memories, the shared history of oppression. Thanks to Mr. Ram’s persistent efforts, a lot of well-meaning, well-to-do Indian Dalits were offered a discreet avenue- the All India Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes Government Employees Association- to help their kind, and thereby saved the ignominy- that corrosive guilt and shame- of becoming treacherous Uncle Toms.

March of the Blue Elephant

How did this one man’s journey to battle an ancient and seemingly unbeatable enemy- the caste system- begin? Despite what the mythology-makers would like to make of it, the fact is that Mr. Ram did not experience caste-based oppression, none that he could recall anyway, during his childhood days in the Punjab: historically, the Bhakti movement led by Guru Nanak and its off-shoot, Sikhism, had played the role of the great leveler in the land of the five rivers, by offering those oppressed by Brahminical homo hierarchichus- to use Louis Dumont’s phrase- a way out. In fact, it wasn’t until one fine afternoon at Poona while playing tennis with his co-officers did he realize just how deep the caste fault-lines ran in this country: not knowing that the fair-skinned Mr. Ram was a Dalit, his partner refused to drink lemonade for the sole reason that the Dalit ‘chaprasi’ had committed the awful mistake of actually letting his ‘untouchable’ hand touch the glass.

The time had come for Mr. Ram’s epiphany: overcome with what can only be described as an overwhelming sense of ‘Paternalism’, he decided at that very instance that whatever remained of his life, would be devoted to destroying these man-made, socially-constructed fault-lines. Needless to say, such an enterprise called for extreme personal sacrifices, comparable with the Mahatma’s: he resigned the quiet comforts of his government job; severed all links with his family; never married; not once held public office (his detractors will be quick to add that this was less out of choice and more due to circumstances); and went about the business of ‘inventing’ a new all-embracing family of Dalits from all over India. It is precisely the way he ‘invented’- by politicizing, for better and for worse- the New Dalit Identity, which marks him apart from every other Dalit leader, including Babasaheb, of India’s arduous history. For much of his life, Mr. Ram remained the quintessential shadow moving all over India’s vast hinterland, silently inflaming its millions of Dalits into seizing power by democratic means.

The idea was always there: some seven decades ago, Babasaheb himself had enunciated it when he demanded- and almost got- separate ‘electorates’ reserved for the Dalits under the provisions of the GOI Act (1935) despite the Mahatma’s fast-unto-death opposition against it. Both leaders, now pitted against each other, had their respective points of view: Mr. Ambedkar held true to his belief that ‘politics is the surest way to bring about social change’; Mr. Gandhi saw hidden ‘divide (the Hindu community) and rule (India)’ designs behind the move. The genius of Kashi Ram lies in the fact that he combined both viewpoints. For him, it was less an issue of ideology and more a matter of mathematics: he believed that Dalits, by virtue of their sheer numbers, were destined to preside over India’s democracy. The only question was how to bring them together on a common platform?

This is where people like my father differ from him: for them, it is more important for Dalits to capture power within established political parties. Not so for Mr. Ram: sharing Babasaheb’s chronic distrust for preexisting national parties, he labored to create a wholly distinct Dalit pan-Indian political alternative manifested in the chequered career of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) painstakingly built on discreet donations from would-have-been Uncle Toms to aid cadres of tireless full-timers in constantly egging the seemingly unstoppable “March of the Blue Elephant” (the BSP’s election-symbol).

In doing so, Mr. Ram willfully opened what the nationalists’ Pandora’s Box: almost suddenly, Caste became the principal, if not the sole, criterion in the determination of electoral outcomes, especially in the cow-belt. Ideology- for that matter, even ideas- took a backseat to the mechanics of seizing power by whatever means- and compromises- necessary. Mirroring Karl Marx’s erroneous deterministic-prescription of an ‘alliance with the bourgeoisie’- sadly for him, the continental Revolts of 1840 proved decisively that the ‘middle-classes’ would much rather ally with the Ancien Regime rather than the emergent proletariat- Mr. Ram, and his protégé, Mayawati, did not shy away from allying with their natural ideological opponents, whose entire politics rests on the cardinal belief that ‘Hindu is not an organization within society but instead an Organization of Society’ [Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined], in the somewhat hasty quest for power. At a certain level, the short-lived BSP-BJP alliance in Uttar Pradesh heralded the beginning of Dalit disenchantment with the ideology-less, power-centric politics espoused by the BSP. This, however, was the least of its problems.

The Ambiguous Mathematician

The Path to Power isn’t always as easy as it looks, more so in an onion-shaped polity like ours, where the peeling-open of each successive layer reveals an increasingly acidic multiplicity of identities, of which caste- the shared experience of systematic oppressions- is only one. Mr. Ram clearly failed to factor-in the sordid business of religion- that intoxicating ‘opium of the masses’- in his mathematical equations. By consolidating the Dalit votebank for the BSP, he was, unwittingly perhaps, eroding the Congress- or, if one prefers, the Secular- base. Put mathematically, the rise of the BSP was in direct proportion to (a) the decline of the Congress and (b) the rise of the BJP, which emerged as its direct contestant. In a riveting study of the Babri Masjid demolition, a group of historians led by Tanika Sarkar discovered that a majority of the kar-sevaks belonged to the ‘Valmiki’ community (the BJP’s term for Dalits). Indeed, the BJP-penetration in tribal and scheduled-caste constituencies has been remarkable for chiefly two reasons: one, the intensification of indoctrination work being carried out by RSS-affiliates such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas et al; and two, the division of these votebanks between the two ‘secular’ rivals vis-à-vis the Congress and the BSP.

This latter phenomenon is not restricted to Dalit and tribal regions. In a meeting with the industrialist Mukesh Ambani prior to the post-Godhra Gujarat election, he pointed out that the biggest hurdle to the Congress comeback was the ‘TINOU factor’, which is a quaint acronym for the phrase ‘There Is No Opposition Unity’: more specifically, this referred to the rather sorry state of affairs wherein all of the so-called Secular parties vis-à-vis Congress, SP, NCP and the BSP, were contesting separately in almost all the seats of the state, thereby splintering the anti-communal (read: anti-BJP) votebank, and paving the way for the Narendra Modi-comeback. Not surprisingly, the biggest anti-climax for the secular forces- especially the Congress- was the total wipeout in the predominantly tribal North Gujarat. In any event, two important lessons were learnt from the Gujarat debacle: first, the Congress top brass convened at Simla to affect a major volte-face of its previous Panchmarhi Declaration, and resolved to actively play a leadership role in the consolidation of the Secular Alliance within the broader framework of coalitional politics (one might even say that the seeds of the UPA Victory were planted here); and secondly, the middle-of-the-road approach, reflected in ‘the soft Hindutva’ approach adopted during the Gujarat campaign, was abandoned once and for all.

These cataclysmic changes in the contours of Indian polity called for a strategic realignment- ‘reinvention’- of Mr. Ram’s party- and India’s Dalit Movement- all over again. Would the BSP as the main exponent of majority-casteism, categorically distance itself from the forces of majority-communalism? Would it ally itself with the secular alliance? If so, would it accept the leadership role self-assigned to the Congress? And of course, the biggest question of them all: could the hurdle of irrevocably ruptured, increasingly personalized and bitter Uttar Pradesh Politics ever be surmounted to bring together the three big ‘secular’ parties- the BSP, SP and the Congress- on a national level?

There was just one catch: it was apprehended amidst a much-publicized volley of allegations and counter-allegations that the architect of India’s Dalit Movement was nothing more than a puppet in the hands of his protégé, Ms. Mayawati. Even if that were true, it’s difficult to imagine how things might have turned out differently. Still, the Hope that Mr. Ram’s acute sense of History as indeed his unsurpassable experience as the fountainhead of a radical, politicized Dalit identity, would have imparted much-needed clarity in setting the future course of the BSP and the Dalit Movement. In any event, it would be safe to say that he no longer held the reins of power, even within his own party: successive electoral defeats from his homeland Punjab (where, as has been pointed out earlier, the impact of the Dalit-issue remains minimal); fledgling health; and Ms. Mayawati’s increasingly aggressive desire to emerge from his over-looming shadow and carve her own niche, all conjoined to ensure that Mr. Ram’s voice- if at all heard- was merely a distant echo, amplified through the hoarse textures of his anointed successor’s constantly shifting, ambiguous acoustics.

It will be some time yet before Kashi Ram’s legacy can be deciphered. All that can be said for certain is that with him and in him and through him, the idea of a Dalit Prime Minister- irrespective of the individual who sits on the Throne- has gained a hitherto absent, if only arithmetical, legitimacy: this perhaps is to be his greatest ‘ideological’ contribution.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Film Review (C): Lagé Raho Gandhi Ji

INTRODUCTION: The Iconic Context
To make Gandhi relevant all over again, it became necessary to bring him back from the dead: this is precisely what Lagé Raho Munna Bhai (LRMB) does. Not surprisingly, Puritans, like a recent contributor to The Hindu Magazine, tend to disparage the ‘oversimplification’ and the ‘misrepresentation’ of the Mahatma’s philosophy in the film. Admittedly, in light of the vast corpus of Gandhi’s writings running into well over 90 voluminous volumes- personally, I can’t think of any other thinker who has contradicted himself more often during the constant if somewhat turbulent evolution of his ideas (to use his own words ‘...I claim for them nothing more than does a scientist who, though he conducts his experiments with the utmost accuracy, forethought and minuteness, never claims any finality about his conclusions, but keeps an open mind regarding them... Yet I am far from claiming any finality or infallibility about my conclusions... For me they appear to be absolutely correct, and seem for the time being to be final’) - it is virtually impossible to summarize his Thought within the structural constraints of contemporary cinema. Sir Richard Attenborough, who more than anyone else is responsible for the creation and popularization of the Gandhi-legend in mass media, took over three decades scripting his magnum opus, and still couldn’t quite succeed in satisfying all the Gandhians, each of whom prefers to ‘cast the Father of the Nation in his/her own image’. Rajkumar Hirani, the creator of LRMB, too, therefore can be forgiven the liberties he might have taken in resurrecting Gandhi. Even so, what does the LRMB-Gandhi represent?

At the heart of Mr. Hirani’s ‘Gandhigiri’ lies the New Testament concept of ‘Love thy enemy’. It is in total opposition to Bollywood’s most celebrated cultural icon that propelled Amitabh Bacchan to superstardom in the late ’70s- early ’80s: the Angry Young Man, who was only too happy to take the law into his own hands to achieve his ultimate objective: vindication by means of total annihilation of his enemy. If it is true that the icons we worship reveal something of ourselves- our hopes, aspirations and fears- as also the nature of the times we live in, then the cinematic rise of Mr. Bacchan mirrored the ascendance of yet another superstar on India’s political firmament: Sanjay Gandhi. Unlike previous superheroes, they didn’t subscribe to a Black & White morality but instead chose- rather bravely, one might say- to inhabit the in-between Gray. More often than not, breach of personal ethic- ‘thou shalt not kill’- was justified in the name of public good: the world after all is better off without the bad guys. Both took on the morass and corruption of the ‘System’ to the point of demolishing it altogether; both displayed little respect for the Rule of Law, which too was considered, in many ways, part of that System; both attained superstardom by means of untimely deaths (in Mr. Gandhi’s case, a real-life plane crash).

SYNOPSES: 3 in 1

All three aspects of the fin de siècle transformations of Bollywood’s cinematic cult-icons- from the Angry Young Man to the Romantic anti-hero (epitomized by Mr. Bacchan’s successor Shahrukh Khan) in the ’90s to the Gandhigiri-proselytizing don at the dawn of the new Millennium- symbolically come together as a Trinity in the story of the good-hearted goon Munna, as it unfolds in LRMB and its prequel “Munna Bhai, MBBS” (MBMBBS).

At the beginning of MBMBBS, we encounter Munna ‘Bhai’ (the latter being a polite euphemism for a don of substance) and his outrageously funny crony, fondly called ‘Circuit’, in the seedy but slightly sanitized Ram Gopal Verma-like Mumbai underworld. When Munna receives a telegram informing him of his parents’ arrival from his Haryana village, he and his gang hastily convert their double-storied shanty into a hospital, and Munna Bhai becomes ‘Munna Bhai, MBBS’. The charade, however, soon gets blown, and Munna undertakes to become a real doctor by enrolling in the local medical college. Through not-so-subtle methods, he persuades the previous year’s topper to take the entrance examination for him. Once at the medical college, Munna demonstrates that professionalism must be supplemented by passion- what he calls ‘jadu ki jhappi’ (lit: the magical hug)- in order to bring about complete healing à la Robin Williams in ‘Patch Adams’. Not surprisingly, he falls in love with his bête-noire, the Dean’s doctor-daughter, who represents the ideal blend of professionalism and passion. The message of the first Munna Bhai film is both simple and powerful: ‘Love heals.’

While the stage of MBMBBS is limited to a hospital, in LRMB, Mr. Hirani decides to let Munna Bhai take on the world. And who better than Gandhi- by far, the Greatest Icon to emerge out of the subcontinent- to guide him through it?

The plot is simple enough: Munna falls in love with the voice of a radio-jockey (RJ), Jhanvi; in order to have a mano-à-mano tête-à-tête with Jhanvi on the program, he enrolls in a telephonic radio-quiz on Gandhi, and with a little ‘persuasion’, wins; when she asks him how he knows so much about the Mahatma, he hurriedly declares himself a Gandhian Professor, and this faux-declaration gets him invited to her beach-front house, wherein live a bunch of testosterone-brimming geriatrics abandoned by their worldly offspring. In order to keep up the charade, Munna decides to digest every book he can find in the Gandhi library, and comes face to face with the Mahatma himself. Of course, nobody else except him- and the good Circuit, who professes to do so in order to humour his boss into believing that he is in fact not deranged-, can see the great soul. All is well until Munna’s partner-in-crime, the realtor-Sardar Lucky Singh decides to dupe him into taking Jhanvi and her gang of geriatrics to Goa on a fully-paid holiday so that he can take illegal possession of the house, which he must gift as dowry to have his only daughter married to a astrology-obsessed tycoon’s son. Now, in the ordinary course of things, Munna could well have forcibly repossessed the house for his paramour, but Gandhi has other plans for him, not very dissimilar from the unorthodox advise he gave Churchill in face of Nazi blitzkrieg: to shame the possessor into returning the property that is not his by making him realize the error of his ways. In this case, he wants everyone in town to send Lucky, who is no doubt ‘sick’, flowers and ‘get-well-soon cards’. So begins the rocking career of Munna Bhai as a Gandhian advise-dispensing RJ, and very soon, all of Mumbai is caught in the throes of good-natured ‘Gandhigiri’.

REALITY CHECK: ‘Cinematic Locha’
Does Gandhi really speak to Munna? Or is he hallucinating? To test this, the skeptic Lucky tricks him into attending a press conference where he has a psychiatrist ask him questions that only the Mahatma would know the answers to. When quizzed about his mother’s name, Munna’s Gandhi remains dumb. Our hero fails the test. He realizes that in fact, it wasn’t Gandhi speaking to him at all; but only an echo of what he had already read about him at the Library. The vision of Gandhi, therefore, was nothing but a residue of a chemical imbalance of the brain; or as Munna puts it, a ‘chemical locha’. Is the LRMB-Gandhi also something of a ‘cinematic locha’?

Perhaps. Yet the fact of its immense mass-appeal cannot be denied. Soon after the release of LRMB, the venerable Fathers at the Loretto Girls’ Convent at Lucknow decided to perform a ‘resurrection’ of their own: the result was an auditorium packed with panic-stricken schoolgirls as they were made to bear ‘witness’ to the spirit of Jesus- whose message, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi embodied- enter into the body of a monk. What followed was anything but Gandhigiri as zealots of the ABVP- the right-wing BJP’s student outfit- vandalized the institution. Admittedly, bringing back people from the afterlife isn’t the sure-shot way of spreading their message. The answer therefore must be sought elsewhere, in the mystery of both the medium and the message.

The medium, in this case, is Munna; while the message is Gandhi personified. The principal reason, in my opinion, for Gandhi becoming anachronistic- outdated- lies in the fact that before LRMB, we- the nation in general and its youth in particular- found his message both impractical and ineffective. Munna demonstrates that it is not necessarily so. A corrupt clerk can be embarrassed into paying the pensioner’s stipend when the latter decides to hand him the bribe in kind: in this case, by doing a veritable Full Monty. Likewise, a chronic paan-chewing spitter can be made to amend his ways by repeatedly wiping off the stains in his presence. In yet another scene, Munna shows the courage it takes to apologize, or even to tell the hard-truth. Indeed, Gandhigiri works best at an interpersonal level: its social impact is cumulative, as an epidemic- ‘break-out’- of love.

While composing his obituary for the Mahatma, Albert Einstein had warned us of the dangers of disbelief: "Generations hence shall scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked this earth." In the final analysis, I believe that the best way to make Gandhi relevant to our times is to demonstrate that he was more practical than most of us imagine him now to be. In other words, it becomes important to rescue his Humanity from the ever-burgeoning Mythology: to make him more believable to our age. To this end, subsequent entries in this blog will seek to reexamine the practical dimensions of the Mahatma's method and ideology throughout this month of his 143rd birth anniversary.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Friday, October 06, 2006

Notice: The Friedrich August Von Hayek Society

The Friedrich August Von Hayek Society (FAVHS) is a recently launched community on Orkut for those "Libertarians" influenced by the ideas of the Austrian thinker Friedrich August Von Hayek, and how they can be applied to shape the common and separate destinies of the world, particularly nations of the so-called Third World; and who share a critical belief in:
'FREEMARKET' (Ending of all existing trade-related, ideological and political 'hegemonies' in both national and international regimes);
MINIMUM GOVERNMENT (Role of Government confined chiefly to the preservation of Peace necessary for the functioning of Freemarket);
WELFARE AS COLLECTIVE RATHER THAN STATE RESPONSIBILITY (Increasing role of non-state actors in the creation and management of welfare-agencies);
ANTI-TOTALITARIANISM (The Protection and furtherance of the Individual's Right to Expression);
RECOGNITION OF MORAL STANDARDS IN INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE LIFE (To check the descent into Immorality on the false pretext of 'liberalism');
DESIREABILITY OF THE RULE OF LAW (Establishing Safeguards against Arbitrariness, particularly state-arbitrariness).

To join, click here.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Each year, the Festival of Dusshera reminds us of the inevitability of Good banishing Evil: in all parts of the nation, the euphoria of Lord Rama's victory over his ten-headed adversary is revisited by setting afire gigantic Ravana-scarecrows stuffed with multicolored firecrackers that light-up the night sky.

I believe that there is a Ravana inside all of us, lurking beneath the surface and constantly fighting to get out: sometimes, on the pretext of religion, caste, self-importance, personal strife and even naked ambition, it propels us to unleash unimaginable monstrosities upon our fellow human beings.

Drawing inspiration from the eternal significance of this sacred day, I remind myself of the instances I might have allowed Evil, in all its several manifestations, to overcome me; and resolve firmly to banish it from my life, once and for all.

I wish you a Very Happy Dusshera.


AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

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CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
Telephone/ Fascimile: +91 771 4068703
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Skype: jogi.amit
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