A joke, a rape threat and an FIR

A young woman performs an open mic in April 2019. It goes viral in July 2020.

Some internet heroes and self styled social media dons take umbrage.

Get it. People are sensitive. They get offended by jokes. They retaliate.

The retaliation is through videos designed to go viral. They are liberally sprinkled with the choicest of abuses roping in not just the target but her mother and sister as well. While showing off their incredible vocabulary and passionately expressing their rage, one particular social media don takes it a step further. He threatens rape. He uses vile language. He is filth incarnate.

These social media monsters sit in cars for some reason to record their soliloquies. They have kohl lined eyes. Some sport jewellery. They wear ganjis or shirts with the first one or two buttons open. They speak into camera with great pride and all of them universally insist on telling their viewers how much they respect women.

These little self styled Nazi boys trotting out their patriotism and championing the cause of historical legends, eagerly wooing their followers who egg them on to display their ugliest selves … their voices cannot be amplified.

We must learn to accept the difficult truth that Hitler’s regime was the most popular government in German history; yet we know as well that few Germans after the war would confess having given any loyalty to the Nazi movement. This was not a lie in the soul of the German nation; it was a part of a collective delusion that all the fascist movements brought upon their followings. It was as if the movements themselves, as things independent of the men that embodied them, were responsible for the things that happened. Gilbert Allardyce, Historian, 1971

What then is our responsibility?

Social media sites have strict policies on conduct. Eg : Twitter – Hateful Conduct Policy – You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

Here are a few of the things that aren’t allowed on Facebook:

  • Nudity or other sexually suggestive content. 
  • Hate speech, credible threats or direct attacks on an individual or group. 
  • Content that contains self-harm or excessive violence. 
  • Fake or impostor profiles. 

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube – they all have ‘strict’ policies. Why is there no evidence of actually implementing them? Why are these uncouth, vile, repulsive, vulgar little boys being allowed to thrive on these sites? What part of their little solo acts allows them this pedestal to abuse and misbehave?

What will it take for the hate mongering to be erased or is this now part of our ‘new normal’?

Murder by Law

We see the faces of Jayaraj and Fenix plastered across social media. Why don’t we see the faces of the police constables and senior inspectors manning the station? Kumar, Parthiban and constable Maharaja … Why are they cloaked in invisibility? Why have they not been made poster boys of everything that is wrong with this systemic violence?

Semicolon ;

People do not die from suicide, they die from sadness.

Anonymous

Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has deeply affected many of us. At a time when everyone is being forced to introspect and to face their demons, there is a feeling of fragility being experienced by many.  

It’s not just sadness. It is this feeling of connecting with a person standing on the edge of a precipice and trying to understand what he must have been feeling. Suddenly, you’re not sure of what you see on the surface. Suddenly, you realise that there is so much that goes on within that is unfathomable … an overwhelming sense of being adrift, lonely and forlorn. Driven to the point of stepping off a precipice.

Today, there is this big, urgent, unprecedented pause where everyone is flailing, trying to hold on to what they have always known but being compelled to release and let go. The vacant pause is becoming larger and the fog is still not showing any signs of lifting. The earth has tilted on its axis and nothing much makes sense anymore.

At a time like this, SSR has become a symbol of collective pain and collective consciousness. The question WHY reverberates and echoes. Again. Again. And again. Carrying with it millions of personal stories that have found a connection with this one act.

This pain that so many struggle with, disturbing and unsettling as it is, moving away from judgement maybe the first step in the right direction.

The harrowing exodus

I spent all of yesterday switching between making chivda, washing utensils, bingeing on the latest crime web series, 3 meetings on zoom and 2 WhatsApp video chats. I’ve rearranged furniture for the 5th time in these two months and I’ve struggled with sustaining my meditation and exercises on a regular basis. Time simply disappears into a black hole and the days go by in a blur. There is an undercurrent of anxiety at all times. Am I gaining time or losing time?

I count my blessings and I struggle with the guilt of being privileged.

This morning, I woke up to these images and felt miserably small.

While I sit in my comfortable home and find enough and more to worry about, there are lakhs of migrant workers trekking across state lines, hitching truck rides, counting their last rupee. Their desperation is palpable. They have no way of knowing which police patrol will turn out to be a god send and show them compassion or which one will beat them up for walking along the highway and not following lockdown rules. The migrants have in tow young children, who are hungry, weary and unable to comprehend why they are being dragged across such long distances. The sweltering heat, the sweat, the endless roads with no end in sight and all of them anxiously praying for some respite.

Imagine the anger and helplessness on being refused entry at the border after this harrowing journey. No money, no water, no food, blistered feet, exhausted, emotionally spent and on the verge of collapse. Pawns in the hands of the government; deprived of their basic right to human dignity and freedom, it is a desolate and bleak landscape.

The most neglected, ignored, unseen segment of society is today the cynosure of all eyes but to what avail? If, as a society, we fail to acknowledge our responsibility towards them and don’t integrate them into our development plans … it will be our biggest failure yet. Not the virus, not the economy but this … our failure to revisit the fundamental building bricks of our society. For allowing them to crumble into dust without making the effort to save them and rehabilitate them.

Meanwhile, I get on with the chores of the day with these images forever seared into my being.

The Times of Pandemia

The loss of public figures who were adored and loved has amplified the collective grief we feel at this time as we mourn the loss of our freedom, the loss of a world as we knew it and the loss of friends and family who have retracted into a screen.

The barrage of news peddling fear and warning that spews out non stop from our screens adds to the underlying anxiety. It is not surprising that people are feeling a sense of confusion and loss of direction.

The initial days while filled with terror of this unknown enemy were also days of adapting to something new. The mind was processing this new normal. Six months have passed since and the new normal is now the normal. There is no going back. Too much mistrust and fear has crept in of the outdoors, the unknown-asymptomatic people, proximity, surfaces, crowds, public travel, a common cold … everything is up for assessment.

The lockdown has stripped away the veneer of pretend working, the hyper responses and the fake news. Old forgotten talents and hobbies have resurfaced, meditation and yoga and home exercises, new recipes and experimental cooking, following a routine, designer masks, communication … everyone is finding their outlet.

Today, there is gratitude for having a home and the resources to stay safe on one hand and there is the inescapability of self and the strains and stresses of malfunctioning relationships. The old days of chasing goals, money, status … it’s been taken away. It’s a hiatus from the frenzied living and it is making many, uncomfortable. In this heaving, sighing collective connectedness … there is just today. Real, uncompromising, present. Today.

The New World is coming

Breaking habits is hard but with this months long, enforced lockdown and a broken economy we will all find ourselves moving towards some changes in our lifestyles and in our social and political structures. A few that come to my mind are :

Reducing the stress on over populated cities

Less global and more local

Building outlying satellite towns and making them autonomous and independent

Flattening hierarchies, helping rebuild smaller businesses

Adoption of a global digital currency

Kick starting our agriculture and farming on a priority basis

Investing in health care

Digital transformation will pick up pace. Simplifying tasks so they can be attributed to tech and robotics and thus free up time to innovate and create a new world order.

Appreciating and acknowledging the co-dependence between man and nature. Nurturing our planet and the environment.

Collaborations and task teams will take precedence over monopolistic leaders and organisations.

Most importantly, we will see global citizens rise in a wave against the existing inequities and work towards building a common future. As we can see the pandemic was the first blow to setting our house in order. War, injustice, hatred, apathy, divisiveness are all being aggravated. All that is negative is coming to the surface and showing us a mirror to our ugliness. It will eventually be replaced by a new world order but not before the planet and its people have paid a price to learn these lessons.

The world in pause mode

It’s difficult to wrap my head around what we are experiencing today. Just a month ago it was life as I had always known it. Stepping outside of the door was never accompanied by a jolt of fear or doubt. It was just something you did unthinkingly as you set out and about.

Today, I worry about my car as its stands unused like the others in the car park. The cars are all washed regularly. They gleam and glint like showpieces but the tyres are slowly losing air.

The park has a huge padlock at the gate. It looks verdant, peaceful and alive. Not a single human is visible but birds are reclaiming their territory with evident delight.

The air is filled with bird song and eerie quiet. There is no honking. No traffic sound. No chatter of people. No motorbikes driving through noisily without their silencers. No lovers hidden in the folds of the lanes. No fitness obsessed people jogging with single minded intent. No flights roaring overhead.

The outdoors are calm. Deserted. Surreal. And yet they seem to be in a state of regeneration. The buildings, on the other hand, pulse with hidden energy. You expect them to explode with all that suppressed fear they are holding within them. Each apartment brimming with people 24/7. Reined in. Restricted. Locked down.

Where am I? What is this place? How did we get here? There is a feeling of inevitability to the life we are all suddenly leading. That breathless, endless surge of people through the cities, rocking back and forth between home and work has ceased. Completely. We have been forced to retract, retrace. To pull back and stop. The machines have ground to a halt. The malls have shut.

And yet the world has come alive. Were it not for the lonely deaths and the rapidly spreading contagion, the pressure on the medical teams and the local governments, the absolute halt of the economy … I swear, you could hear an underlying strain of melody. There’s a faint tremor to the note but it’s pure and sharp. And it’s fighting its way through. I can feel the world straining to rise like a phoenix from the ashes … and when it does … what an enthralling sight it will be.

Till then … stay safe.

Dear Virus/Weapon of mass destruction,

My mind is in a constant state of churn. Focusing on any one thing has become challenging. Visions of people dying, losing loved ones, being locked away in a hospital with other sick people, struggling to breathe, wishing fervently for home, maniacally tracking my symptoms and worrying about the state of my lungs, wondering who will take care of my children if I’m in hospital, what if I’m responsible for bringing you home and endangering my parents or my in-laws, fearing ostracism not just for myself but also my family, concerned about you staying in my blood stream for ever, questioning if my lungs are melting and I’ll suddenly drop to the ground, dead, pushed into an electric crematorium and summarily dismissed from life … my brain is whirring endlessly till I’m a nervous wreck.

Then, suddenly, I find myself riding a hopeful crest … imagining myself immune to you CO-VIDa la loca; emerging into cleansed, beautiful, incredible Mother Earth, ready to embrace life and love, to find some peace in farming and nature, live every moment completely, appreciate the truth of Hyggae and Ikigai … until I crash again into the depths of despair imagining all the migrants stranded at the railway platform, stuck in limbo, unable to move forward or back, penniless, helpless … or the innumerable poor people across the nation struggling to understand where their source of income disappeared, trying to make sense of this new reality … why have you, o virus, challenged what is already a challenging existence?

What of those stuck in abusive situations locked in with the perpetrators for god knows how long, and what of those stuck in maddening, frustrating marriages having to get up each morning and look at the one person they most wanted to be away from, what of the houses bought but not shifted into, what of jobs lost and nothing in sight in the distant future, what of the ailing and the weak unable to leave their homes, what of those stuck in different cities unable to help their loved ones, what of those on the streets with no shelter, what of those grappling with depression and fear, what of the medical fraternity going through their days in a haze of fatigue and with no end in sight, what of what … what … what … and more endless whats.

I feel tired. I also feel exhilarated. And grateful. And guilty. And blessed. And angry. So angry. And deeply sad.

How does one make sense of this craziness? You have brought everyone down on their knees. You have changed the way we look at our reality, at the value of money, at the true value of relationships, at governance and what we expect from it …

Are leaders across countries joining hands? Are they building a plan that will help nations pick up from the remains and build a new world? It’s time to open source running of countries, institutions, corporates, banks, health, travel … basically, reconfigure the world.

You have ripped off the masks. Today we all stand exposed. We wanted to be alone, self first before anyone else, stuck in a loop of unending greed. Today we are all alone, each to his own, forced to live the simple life. Will good win over evil? Will less win over more? Will compassion win over racism and authoritarianism? Will we realise our true north?

There is good that I can already see. People are coming together in the most innovative and amazing ways to help, to carry each other through this time of war. Earth is palpably breathing a sigh of relief, monopolies are slowly deconstructing … the time is not far when people will rise together to save each other and rebuild our future together in more touching, thoughtful and humane ways. We will win this war. We will pay a price but we will win this war. Maybe, you want us to …

yours humbly,

We are all in this together.

Covid-19 – How prepared are we?

Dear Administration,

I had some queries. Would greatly appreciate some insight on this virus which has everyone captive, enthralled and fearfully obsessed.

As of now, I know I should not travel to almost any international destination since this thing seems to be on speed. I should wash my hands at every given opportunity; not touch my face nor touch any surface in public places both of which are proving to be a full time challenge; sneeze into my elbow and pray that my office also decides to encourage working from home; buy hand sanitisers that are no longer available in the market and not bother with masks as they just spread panic and achieve nothing. Oh … and continue eating meats and eggs as that has nothing to do with anything other than the small interesting tidbit that Kerala has had a resurgence of bird flu and resulted in 12k chickens being culled.

Moving on from all of the above … I’d like to understand better how my state/country is managing the situation.

Let’s say I’m unwell and quarantine myself for 14 days within the four walls of my home. What am I supposed to look out for in these 2 weeks? Do I stop ordering stuff online as it would mean an assortment of delivery boys at my doorstep? Do I ask the maids to stay home as well? How exactly do you define quarantine?

At what point in those two weeks do I call for help? Is there some protocol to follow while in quarantine? Where does one call? Does one call for medics at home or call an ambulance? How equipped is the machinery to get people from point A to point B without infecting others? Does the entire family get transported into an excluded seclusion? Do you get to take your digital devices into isolation as well? What about children? What about pets or are they just left to fend for themselves while the family goes off into an impenetrable fortress?

What happens if one is tested positive? Since there is no treatment as of now, how do people get better? There must be some protocol since everyone doesn’t depart for the holy land after being infected. Or does it mean that one can have the virus but not the disease?

If all those tested positive are placed together in an isolation ward … will they keep transferring the virus from one to the other in an endless merry go round?

What happens when you emerge unscathed from isolation? Can you go back into the world of living as super beings who are no longer susceptible or do you go into hiding once again?

When schools start closing down, events start getting canceled and people invest in masks like its the biggest thing on the stock market … then it raises some basic questions. Could you answer some of them for me, please?

Thanking you deeply,

a concerned citizen

Beauty in tumult

Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai. Dekhna hai zor kitna baazu-e-kaatil mein hai. (The desire to make a sacrifice is in our hearts. Let us see what strength there is in the arms of our executioner) Bismil Azimabadi

Today’s youth is impassioned, angry and awake. They’ve found a cause towards which to direct their energy. Righteous, patriotic, inclusive, fighting injustice … it’s a beautiful, heartwarming sight.

Today, almost 50% of our population in India is below 25 years of age. The average age of an Indian is 29 years. Imagine the sheer power we wield as a country!

Unwittingly, this power has been harnessed and is gradually unleashing its moral strength, righteous anger and indignation upon the leading lights of our nation. All it took was an encroachment into civil rights and constitutional freedoms.

To see them pouring out into the streets across India, choosing a path of restraint despite provocation, choosing to stand with their brothers and sisters, choosing unity and diversity … it is like witnessing an eagle take flight. Powerful and glorious.