June 27, 2010

More Equal

On one afternoon seven years ago I heard a girl review George Orwell's Animal Farm. It was during a college course attended by students trying to outdo each other through the books they had read and digested. I was yet to outgrow my suspicions on anybody who read books, academic or otherwise. During the Q&A slide one of the smart guys asked the girl what Orwell meant when he ended the novel with, "All men are equal. Some are more equal than the others." I didn't know. She didn't seem to know. I wonder whether he knew. The professor didn't explain. That or more probably I wasn't paying attention. And Orwell himself was conveniently dead.

A few years later I read the book. I still didn't know what Orwell meant, but I held on to that line. I may have even quoted it during intellectual conversations centered around exchanging trivia, the way we quote famous movie dialgoues without fully knowing which movie they come from and why. But it was more than a showpiece to me, occasionally confusing my mind when I willed to think about it. What could have Orwell, whose books and essays have a divine clarity, possibly be implying? What would have Koteshwara Rao sir thought of an impossible expression like "more equal"?

While reading another of Orwell's essays yesterday, it struck me. Animal Farm starts with an uprising, much like a proletariat overpowering a bourgeois. And it ends with a totalitarian regime, much like what appears to eventually happen in non-capitalist governments. Orwell wrote about totalitarian regimes that evolved from socialist ideals, which at their core spring from a desire to achieve (attribute) absolute equality among all subjects. The impossibility of such equality (impossibility of its success) is aptly implied using the impossible expression "more equal", as is the implication that such societies would subsequently tilt (undesirably).

When I read that the animals stood for proletariat, I missed the double-significance of there being different species. That different species stand for different capabilities (jobs) amongst people is easily seen. But they also contain a reverse implication that people are as different as different species, and thus they can't possibly become equal regardless of their temporary illusions.

April 14, 2010

Spreading Joy Through Reading

Cross-posted on Cine Cynic. Updated with information about modes of donation and contacts.

Akshar Bharati is an NGO with a beautiful aim: opening libraries for under-privileged children. Since its inception 3 years ago it has opened nearly 200 libraries across 6 states. That is a great achievement for an organization in which there is only one full-time activist and rest are all volunteers. As an awarness and fund raising campaign, it is organizing a musical night by Avdhoot Gupte on 18th April, 2010 at VIT College, Pune.

If you see the irony in a book-centric organization holding a music-centric event you should realize that we adults want very little to do with books ourselves though we want children to read more. Imagine a joyless event like a three-hour-long public book-reading session and you will agree that we are more likely to want to be paid in such a scenario, not the other way round.

As an occasional volunteer, it is imperative that I implore you to buy donation passes (worth 300, 500 and 1000 INR) or give donations or sign up as volunteers. Those are all inclusive ors. Interested folks can call me if you have my number, contact me (cinecynic AT gmail DOT com), or post a comment below. All donations come under Income Tax, 80G exemption and are eligible for programs like matching grants in several corporations.

Spread the word about spreading joy through reading.


Donations: The online payment gateway system is not yet on because Akshar Bharati is still waiting for the government approval. Donations of all amounts are accepted in the form of cheques (pay "Sewa International"). Library adoption costs: primary (10000 INR), secondary (12000 INR), complete library (22000 INR).

Office: Akshar Bharati, Sewa Sahayog, Flat #7, Shreya Apartment, Near Swanand Hospital, Deep Bungalow Chowk, Shivajinagar, Pune - 411016.

Contact: Kailas Narawade (+91-9604533919), info AT aksharbharati DOT org.

March 18, 2010

Juta Churai

I attended an inter-regional wedding a few months ago. Towards the end of the ceremony the siblings of the North Indian bride stole the shoes of the South Indian groom. I was told that this is a mandatory event in many North Indian weddings. I found out later that this is also prevalent in South India and only I have managed to stay away from it.

This is how the event is supposed to transpire: The fellows steal the groom's shoes. The groom is to leave the place only after somehow -- reason, beg, buy, steal -- winning back the shoes from the fellows. He can't reason because the fellows are unreasonable. He can't beg because the fellows are stony. He can't buy because the fellows only want more money than the national debt of the USA. (He won't buy because he doesn't have such a shoe fetish.) He can't leave barefoot because the fellows won't allow the bride to accompany him, because though they absolutely do not mind marrying off their sister to a man without shoes they do mind letting her live with him. He can't leave behind the shoes and the bride because his parents need them for another event at another place in the near future.

To put it mildly, the groom is in quite a pickle. To exaggerate, he is living his worst nightmare. He is already fatigued and irritated by the fire and the incomprehensible rituals, is expectant and expected to play the Bollywood hero sans stunts. His family, having recently decided that he is capable of setting up his own family, is now relentlessly looking to put together a solution (and some quick cash) for the apple of their eye. The fellows are having fun at his cost, ragging him not inside a locked room but on a dais of a filled community hall.

The event that night was one of the best examples of the irony of humor I have ever witnessed. All participants and spectators, I believe, derived a different level of fun (and anxiety, for that matter) from it based on their background (cultural, regional, religious), tolerance, familiarity with the practice, and closeness to one of the two parties. As an observer with nothing to lose I was thoroughly entertained. I hoped for everyone's sake that the groom wouldn't break down, and was also curious to see him break. When the fellows finally got bored and relented, and asked the groom whether he doesn't already feel like having gotten closer to the new wing of the extended family, I was disappointed. What until then appeared to be gallant stupidity suddenly became rehearsed wisdom. It was an anti-climax. Could it have ended in any other way?

I later came to know that this event is perceived as a symbolic way of bringing closer the families taking part in the wedding, as a way of opening debate between them for future necessities. Even amateur poets writing to meter no longer buy such symbolisms, and I find it irrelevant for today's cross-geo nuclear families. This may be a vestige of the ancient practice of kanyASulkam. And therein might lie a solution of getting out of it, while stressing once again that getting into it seems more artificial than implants.

The groom could shame the fellows about objectifying and appraising a woman, though it wouldn't work if the fellows are shameless. The groom's family could stand by a principle (of taking dowry) and threaten to cancel the wedding for asking their side to pay for something, though it would end badly if the fellows report it to the Police. Someone could cry like a baby until the outcome becomes favorable, though it would appear tragic to most. Interestingly, all of these and any other could be pushed any farther and then called off as humor. It might work based on the very basis of the different perceptions of humor. One side is euphoric; the other is dysphoric.

Inexplicably, this silly ritual has been creeping into my mind whenever I hear about a wedding. Now, I hope that it rests.