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Sharell has already done a post on the Indian proclivity for spitting in public. And I quite like the numbering convention she’s come up with, so I have taken the liberty of borrowing that for my post.

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We all know that we’re the sort of people who like to treat the world as our spittoon. But this post is about some specific aspects of that general trait.

I was driving to work the other day, and there happened to be a bike as well an auto in front of me.  Up ahead, there was the carcass of a dog on the road, clearly roadkill from the night before. As the bike swerved to avoid the mangled remains, both the rider as well as the chap sitting pillion spat at the corpse in synchronised unison. Ptooeey, ptooeey. Two wet globs of spit landed on the carcass. Not to be outdone, the auto guy followed with a contribution of his own, his phlegmatic discharge twinkling in the morning sun as it, too, found its mark. Bizarre. Almost made me wonder if I was breaking some hoary tradition by not following suit.

That got me thinking about other strange Indian spitting rituals. Have any of the male readers here noticed what goes on around them in the men’s restroom at any multiplex, especially when it’s chock-a-block during the interval? Invariably, many of the men there extend their necks (gingerly) and then spit (not so gingerly) into the urinal before tucking themselves (again, gingerly) back into their flies. Now, I’m nothing if not a Scientific Simian. I therefore decided to observe this phenomenon afresh, and, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, visited a multiplex over the weekend. The results, I must report, were the same. A good number of people (statistically significant?) went thoooh in the loo. I don’t know what pissed them all off, but they did end up looking like spitting images of each other.

So folks, can anyone explain these rituals to me? Why would people passing by roadkill spit on it? And why do men feel the urge to spit while they are peeing? I, for one, am completely baffled. Any answers?

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It’s official. We’re now a banana republic. I had this sneaking suspicion that we were well on our way when Kapil Sibal started his machinations last year; no doubts remain now that a Professor at Jadavpur University has been arrested for “spreading” a cartoon that shows Mamta Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy in “a poor light” (sic)

Poor light? Really? Newsflash, Didi. Idolising their subjects is not the way cartoons usually make people laugh.

Arresting somebody for expressing his views to people on his email list? Is that the kind of country we have become? First it was obscenity or “offending religious sentiments”. Now it seems you can be imprisoned for cartoons that express dissent, disapproval or just a different point of view.

The way we’re going – corruption, institutional decay, rising intolerance in both the private and public spheres, the economy down the crapper – I seriously need to contemplate emigration. Perhaps a country which, over the next couple of years, might be in a place better than where we’re headed.

Quirkynorthkorean? Has a nice ring to it, I must say.

As if all their other methods were not enough, the master strategists of the Congress have thought of a novel, fool-proof method to thwart public support for the Jan Lokpal bill movement.

They have got a female model to threaten to dance naked if the bill isn’t passed.

Brilliant! What better way of ensuring that all males, 14 and upwards, now actively start campaigning for the bill not to be passed?

Who says the Congress leadership lacks strategic depth?

Digvijay Singh has claimed that if the Congress were scared of Baba Ramdev, he (Ramdev) would be behind bars.

Interesting statement that. Digvijay Singh has said it all, and on many levels.

First, the fact that for many of his ilk, “Congress” and “Government” seem to be perfect synonyms.

Second, and far more revealing of the psychology of Digvijay and his colleagues, is the fact that dissent of any kind – even something as, well, “non-criminal” as a fast – seems to merit imprisonment.

Imprisonment? On what grounds? Isn’t there a well-defined, albeit often violated, procedure for imprisonment? And last I checked, no political party was given the right to decide that by our constitution – even if the offence was one that merited imprisonment and procedure was followed.

A Freudian slip. And a seemingly innocuous statement that reveals the face hiding behind the mask of democracy. A face that says “Agree with us or go to prison”.

So is Anna Hazare’s fast and movement something that will undermine democracy? Or is it simply the weapon of last resort left to a citizenry that has seen systematic weakening – and near dismantling – of many democratic institutions?

Over a year ago,  I wrote “Requiem for a Country”,  a post on some remarkable observations made by Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. One of Dr. Ambedkar’s points of view struck me as being very insightful: that satyagraha and non-cooperation are the “grammar of anarchy”. In the interesting comments that followed that post, I further stressed that in a constitutional democracy, one has to use the tools given to us to seek redressal, and resorting to other means is not desirable. Not everyone agreed, of course.

I still stick to the point of view. But one can’t help but be in awe of what Anna Hazare has done. He has managed to bring together an apathetic nation, and has managed to infuse a sense of purpose into the people. It is very clear that this man has struck a chord with a people desperate for some semblance of change, craving for a symbol and a cause that would enable them to forget their everyday priorities of caste, religion and language.  For that, and for the courage to take a stand, he deserves our honour, gratitude and support.

But where does this all end? No one really knows. Uncomfortable and distraught as I am at the fact that as citizens and voters we have undermined our own constitutional democracy by electing, time and again, the worst possible people to represent us, I am equally uncomfortable with the fact that some NGOs, Magsaysay award winners and activists would now dictate policy. I am terrified of the self-righteous who, in my experience, can be as intolerant and blinkered as the worst bigot you can find.

And is corruption such a big issue to the average Indian voter? I know it is big, but is it big enough to overcome the primary considerations – language, caste and religion, with some electoral freebies thrown in for good measure – of the people of this Great Country? We will find out soon enough.  Our fellow citizens in five states have the opportunity to actually make a difference in their states. They have the tools, the means and the opportunity to drive the change everyone says India wants. Let us see what they do.

Having said that, in all fairness I must also admit that all the commentators and observers who are wary of this phenomenon that Anna Hazare has generated  – and I include myself among them – have failed to come up with any alternative or even a half-way credible solution to set things right. All they keep talking about is how dangerous it is to bypass elected representatives, and undermine the electoral process. And such arguments, without any alternatives, simply reek of hand-wringing helplessness, and only serve to  add credence to the alternative of action. “At least we’re doing something” seems to be the dismissive rejoinder to our notes of caution – and I can’t really blame the people for making that response. After all, see where six decades of constitutional democracy and elected representatives have got us. Surely anything would be better than this lot.

Hard to fault that argument. Except on one count. Where did this corrupt lot come from? Did they impose themselves on us? No. We elected them. We chose them. We applauded them and cheered when they made other illiberal decisions, drafted other draconian laws and nominated some distinctly dodgy people to certain positions of power and responsibility. Yes, we got them there. We had the gift of universal adult suffrage, which other countries are still fighting for, and we systematically squandered it away. Half the population chose not to exercise the right to vote, and the other half elected the very people that we heckle today. What makes us think that a different bucket of water from the same well is going to taste any better? We traded a bunch of white-skinned exploiters for a bunch of dark-skinned exploiters, and we now want to trade in the latter for another bunch with the same skin colour, but with apparently more integrity. But we can never have the ability,  as Dr. Rajendra Prasad rightly said “…to devise any yardstick for measuring the moral qualities of a man, and so long as that is not possible, our Constitution will remain defective”. The wave of enthusiasm sweeping across this country has its hopes underpinned on the fact that activists and “award-winners” will prove to be of better moral calibre than our politicians.

So, will anything change for real? I don’t know. We deserved the governments we got, and I dearly hope I am wrong, but all precedents point to the fact that we will also get the NGOs  and activists we deserve.

My disdain for CNBC and the pundits on it has prevented me from making millions.

I discovered this sad truth earlier today, when some talking head on the channel let slip the secret that’s been eluding me – and I am sure, many others like me – for years. “The trick to making money in the stock market” he revealed, “is to buy stocks cheap.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Inception was a movie that I was really looking forward to. Christopher Nolan, DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe – how could it go wrong? The Matrix references only added to my excitement.

Turns out, it’s a good film. But it’s not a great film. Perhaps I have been let down by my expectations. I have watched every film but one of Nolan’s and, while hard-pressed to point out his best, believe that this particular film is not it. It’s a very novel concept, it’s been well executed, but there’s nothing like the kick in the gut one got when one watched The Matrix. One has to admit, though, that The Matrix is a tough act to follow. Even the Wachowskis could never attain the same heights again….they never even came close.

The best thing about Inception is the idea – it’s unique, and it’s clearly been thought through. Nolan has also kept it taut, even if it runs for almost two and a half hours. It’s a good-looking film, well shot, with competent acting, and is definitely worth a watch. I just wish I could better explain this feeling – of something missing – that persisted with me long after the end of the film.

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Now to other matters. Two sets of friends are in the middle of divorces. And it just made me realise that men are very often victims as well. In one case, the wife carried on with another man for a long time, and decided to end the marriage. Ok, that happens. You find someone else and decide to move on. The husband, who had no idea, was shocked. But they decided to keep it amicable and civil, and he’s now trying to pick up the pieces of his life.

It’s the divorce of the other couple that has really disturbed me. Wonderful people, both the husband and the wife. I’ve known them for years. They decided to separate, and also figured on doing it amicably and civilly. Things were proceeding well. And suddenly, the husband was threatened with allegations of harassment and torture, and is now being arm-twisted to part with more than he should. And frankly, he was already being more than fair in the settlement. Anyone who knows the couple knows that there is not an iota of truth in those allegations. But the law, when it comes to allegations of this sort, is skewed in favour of the woman, and the man, if he decides to call the bluff here, is in for the long haul – FIR, possible arrest, harassment and possible arrest of his parents, and a long and sapping court battle. With his father having undergone a complicated bypass procedure a few months ago, he is anxious to end this with minimum fuss. Which means giving in to the wife’s extortion.

Most of us who know them are aghast, more so because the wife is also a warm and caring person. At least, she used to be. But greed can, I suppose, make people do strange things.

The unfairness of the law galls me. But it also struck me that this was part of a larger Indian phenomenon – the tendency to cover incompetence and shortcoming in implementation by making tougher laws. So, if women are being harassed and intimidated at home, instead of ensuring that the police investigate such complaints promptly and efficiently, with some degree of competence, we take the short-cut of enacting a tougher law. And as much as domestic violence targeted against women is a sad fact, it is equally true that there are many women who exploit and misuse this law to screw over their husbands.

And we don’t restrict it to that, do we? No. Terror laws, for example. The police can’t competently handle things here as well, so make it easier to pick up people and lock them up for long periods without judicial redress.

In both cases, we have tougher laws – unfair laws, in my opinion – that actually absolve the investigating authorities of the need for any competence and expertise, and instead hand our men in khaki yet another source of income.

It’s shameful – and ironic – how we keep snipping away at the thin sheets of liberty that our constitution gives us, handing over more and more power and control to an already predatory state.

And, as with my friend, it’s always the innocent who bear the brunt.

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Did I forget to mention that it’s good to be back?

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