Meru (Screengrab from www.merufilm.com)
As a child I often heard of Meru Parvat (Mount Meru) as part of the neighborhood folklore. It was described as the center of everything there is. I vaguely recall a neighbor saying it was “greater” than Everest. He took care to say “greater” and not higher. In short, Meru loomed large.
While watching the stunning trailer of the documentary ‘Meru’ I got some sense of the great mountain’s awe-inspiring reputation in my childhood. Mountains generally and the Himalayas particularly have that unrestrained beauty that can come only as a consequence of the enormous forces of nature doing what they do best—make and unmake and remake.
The trailer of the documentary shot, directed and produced by Jimmy Chin gives one a glimpse of how raw and yet how majestic Earth can be. I have some experience of the Himalayas because of my travels to Garhwal, Kashmir, and parts of Himachal Pradesh. They look stately without looking particularly unfriendly. I am sure climbing any of these, particularly Meru, is a harrowing endeavor.
I look forward to watching the documentary and eventually adding it to my home collection. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be getting a wide release in Chicago area. It is mostly playing in the city.
It is tough enough to climb any mountain but to climb one like Meru and then shoot a documentary in temperatures dropping to minus 20F, when your exposed limbs can freeze in a couple of minutes, is an enterprise of spiritual proportions. I am thrilled that Chin and his colleagues Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk had the fortitude to do that because a vast majority of the human race would never get anywhere close to it.
A description on the documentary’s website says this: “The layout of the 21,000-foot mountain’s perversely stacked obstacles makes it both a nightmare and an irresistible calling for some of the world’s toughest climbers. Hauling over 200 pounds of gear up 4,000-feet of technical, snowy, mixed ice and rock climbing is actually the simple part of this endeavor. After crossing that gauntlet you reach the Shark’s Fin itself: 1,500 feet of smooth, nearly featureless granite. There are few pre-existing fissures, cracks or footwalls. It is simply a straight sheet of overhanging rock.
In October 2008, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk arrived in India to tackle Meru. What was meant to be a seven-day trip with the equivalent amount of food became a 20-day odyssey in sub-zero temperatures, thanks to the setback of a massive storm that showered the mountain with at least 10 feet of snow. Like everyone before them, their journey was not a successful one. But they had reached further than anyone else, beaten back just 100 meters below the elusive summit.
Heartbroken and defeated, Anker, Chin and Ozturk returned to their everyday lives, swearing never to attempt the journey again. But they faced sudden physical and emotional challenges back home, too, challenges only exacerbated by the siren song of Meru, one that Anker perhaps heard the loudest. By September 2011, Anker had convinced his two lifelong friends to undertake the Shark’s Fin once more, under even more extraordinary circumstances than the first time around.”
I admit to writing this post purely because this headline came to me after watching adult actress turned just regular actress Sunny Leone’s condom commercial. I came to know of the commercial only because of a communist politician in India was quoted as blaming this commercial for the rising incidence of rape.
The politician, Atul Kumar Anjan of the Communist Party of India was reported to have said this at a rally in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from the disturbing absurdity of the man’s ludicrous claim, I am more intrigued by a politician talking about a particular condom commercial at a public rally. What prompted him to think of the commercial at a political rally? Was the air strawberry-flavored or was it just the commercial playing in loop in his mind?
Anjan is one of an inordinately vast number of men who seem to think rape must be explained by everything other than the man actually committing it. In this case, it is Sunny Leone surrounded by tumescent strawberries selling a strawberry-flavored condom brand called ‘Manforce’.
In a sense Sunny is uniquely qualified to sell condoms because of her unusual celebrity as an adult actress turned regular actress. That she is good looking with all the obvious trimmings of those good looks can only help. Adding to her natural flair for the sensuous, is the soft light, hard strawberries (I am sorry to make it sound crass) and words that in essence exhort the commercial’s viewers to bang whenever and wherever—“Bevajah” (Without cause) and “Bewaqt” (Any time or inopportune moment). Everything is quite unexceptionable about the commercial because it is unfolding between not just two consenting adults but even greatly enthusiastic ones.
The storyline has Sunny in some early throes of pleasure as evident in the pose below (Sound not included). There are strawberries everywhere and I do not have to tell you why strawberries. Blame it on nature. I did not make them or your mind.
The problem with men like Anjan—and he is by no means an exception—is that they vulgarly conflate a woman’s free and assertive desires with something as heinous as rape. In his mind he is still stuck on the deeply profane notion that somehow a woman is encouraging it by being desirous and expressing desires. There is a whole class of politicians everywhere, including here in America, who hold the same view as Anjan. Forced by social media outrage Anjan has had the decency to apologize but continues to maintain that he opposes the commercial.
I find the commercial perfectly unexceptionable even though it is predictable with its strawberry reference. As if we did not quite get it, the maker has this shot towards the end.
Naming roads, buildings, bridges and generally objects after someone has the limited purpose of memorializing that person and adding an identifier to the structure. It does not and must not mean anything more. And yet to many it does mean so much more.
Renaming the already existing named things is a way of reclaiming whatever measure of national pride or civilizational greatness that I barely understand. For instance, as bogus controversies go India in general and its capital New Delhi in particular are witnessing one currently. It involves renaming a well-known road, currently named after a fratricidal Mughal king, in memory of a recently deceased former president of India. You would think that the fact that the former president is perhaps the most beloved Muslim public figure in India’s recent history and a well-known scientist to boot called Dr. Abdul Kalam should make the transition easy. You would think wrong.
All kinds of people are offering all kinds of mitigating arguments on why the road should or should not be renamed after him. Some writers have gone to the extent of digging out long-forgotten historical details of the emperor Aurangzeb to make their case whether he was a humorless, philistine tyrant who lorded over the country with a particular kind of cruelty or he was more sinned against than sinning and was actually a decent man of some accomplishment. Both sides forget that he was an emperor which by its very necessity means a practitioner of unabashed cruelty and ruthlessness. Aurangzeb had no qualms practicing that.
In contrast, Dr. Kalam was a classical Indian music-loving, Veena-playing, rocket scientist who also happened to be a devout Muslim. In the view of a certain section of Indians he was a most compelling example of India’s enlightened pluralism who must be remembered by naming something after him. As roads go, Aurangzeb Road is a fairly minor thoroughfare. I used to drive on it on a regular basis while in Delhi for close to 10 years. My newspaper office used to be located within less than a mile of the road. It intersects or leads to many centers of power in the capital, including the famous 7, Race Course Road where the country’s prime minister has the official residence. It is a reasonable tribute to a reasonably accomplished public figure. That is all there is to it.
Aurangzeb had a pretty good run of being on that road. After all he has been dead for 308 years. Driving on that road I used to wonder how it was that someone thought of naming a road after him. No one really paid any attention to the name. It is a fallacy to think that people herald the accomplishment of the person after whom a road is named every time they walk or drive on it. I have seen men urinating behind one of the signs bearing the name Aurangzeb Road, not because they are protesting anything but because it is convenient. Once I even stopped my car and asked just such a man if he knew who Aurangzeb was. He continued to urinate and said, “Abhi to sahab main peeshab kar raha hoon.” (Right now sir, I am urinating.)”
The point is it is just a road.
In June this year, I started keeping track of, albeit without much conscious effort, which language I wake up in. Nearly three months hence I have only a vague idea about what I wake up in. I had suspected it would be English but equally anticipated that it could be just nebulous consciousness.
So far it has been nebulous consciousness. When I say which language I wake up in, I do not mean which language I first speak to a family member in. I mean something my awareness articulates itself in within my mind. It turns out the answer is not that simple. It is more often than not a puff of language-less consciousness.
I am still looking at the informal results of my experiments but the trend suggests it may not be any language at all. The experiment came after I wrote a piece on March 7 last year. While I study the results in more detail read the original piece.
I often wonder whether I have a natural language; natural to the extent that anyone can have one. After all, language is acquired and is not innate.
My first acquired language was Gujarati. That was the language of all existential references but before I could graduate to its mature expression I switched to English for professional/survival reasons. I had never conversed in English till I turned 20 which was also the age when I started writing it as a means of earning.
It is my distinct memory that in those days my thought process was a sort of parallel processing in two languages—Gujarati and English. I never translated one to the other in my mind. They both blossomed on their own. All this while, a mixture of Hindi/Urdu had already become a third track from my early teens because of my natural affinity for poetry. As far as I can tell Hindi/Urdu too were getting fine-tuned in some corner of my brain simultaneously but independently. I am not going to include the other two languages that I understand very well—Marathi and Punjabi.
After living with four (actually six) languages for the better part of the last nearly four decades I could not say with any degree of certainty which is my default language. Purely in terms of the frequency of use, English wins hands down as the likeliest default language. The reasons for that are obvious because it is as much a language of survival as it is of predominant communication. However, if the ease of cursing is used as the yardstick to measure my linguistic proficiency, then I would say it is a close contest between English and Hindi/Gujarati. I would define your natural language as one in which you would curse severely under your breath.
I feel linguistically promiscuous. The brain often indulges in verbal orgies of threesomes or foursomes or even sixsomes between these languages. Marathi and Punjabi remain only reluctant participants in these acts but they are there, hovering around.
These thoughts came to me this morning for no apparent reason. It would be interesting to see which language I might die in. One cannot foreshadow the circumstances of one’s death but I am curious to find out which language I might be thinking in when the end comes in whatever form it does. It is possible that I may have a reflective death where as I am fading away I am actually reflecting on this, that and the other in a particular language as opposed to an unexpected end where I have no control on such details.
I am at a stage where it is no longer possible to say which is really the language of my thoughts, the process of thinking. One wakes up with any of these six languages and goes to sleep with any of them. My monolingual American friends freak out when I discuss this with them. Many of them are unable to process a creature with so many languages rattling about in his brain. I compound it by saying that there are hundreds of millions of people in India and elsewhere in Asia and Europe who speak/understand/write more than three languages without consciously trying.
As one friend put it so eloquently sometime ago while discussing this at a Thanksgiving dinner, “Get the fuck outta here.” Of course, he did not mean for me to really get the fuck outta there but it was his way of expressing bewilderment at the idea that people could be proficient in many languages simultaneously.
I was requested by a major media outlet to do a piece on the political ferment in Gujarat caused by the 22-year-old Hardik Patel and the agitation of the Patel community he has whipped up. I chose not to do it for several reasons, one of which is that I do not know what to make of it. Of course, having been a hack seasoned and marinated for over three decades by journalistic juices I could have written a cogent enough piece that would have been read by a few people.
I need to clarify what I mean when I say I do not know what to make of it. I fully understand the forces that create a sudden outburst of socio-political disquiet that one is witnessing in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat unleashed by a youthful braggart. The reason I hesitate is because I am not on the ground experiencing the phenomenon of a communal uprising led by a young man of uncertain ideas.
I recently spent three months in Gujarat. often in the very areas from where Hardik Patel hails. Among people of the Saurashtra region I did encounter a considerable feeling of having been let down by the powers that be. The anger did not seem to be yet directed at Modi specifically but there was an allusion to him. It was still a stage where those disillusioned were wondering whether it was a result of their own personal failure or something broader and larger.
My first reaction on reading and watching the news reports about the massive rally that Patel organized in my hometown of Ahmedabad was that after a long time the state was witnessing the rise of a voice other than Narendra Modi’s. Over the past 15 years or so Gujarat has pretty much lapped up Modi as he thundered, lambasted, lampooned, mocked, satirized and insulted to the exclusion of any other voice. In a sense—and this is whether or not Hardik Patel remains a long-term political force—we are looking at significant erosion of Modi as an unassailable political presence in Gujarat. This is quite apart from the fact that Modi had outgrown Gujarat by the time he set out for Delhi.
In the emergence of Hardik Patel the much feared Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine (the latter being Modi’s confidant and powerful president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party) is discovering the limits of their raw street clout. It is still entirely possible for the two men to remote-manage the affairs of the state but the ground has clearly shifted since the two shifted to the capital. Gujarat has a history of agitators such as Hardik Patel suddenly rising and then getting co-opted into the unique complacency that comes with being part of the very establishment they were agitating against. The kind of instant revolution that Patel appears to be embarked on, in no small measure fueled by an impulse for violence, is by its very nature short-lived.
One can see that the young man is out of his depth just as soon as he begins to speak. Bombast is useful only up to a point. It may work at rallies but after a while revolution of any kind, even a fake one, demands detail and thinking. At this point his entire strategy seems to be to let the prime minister know that he should either humor them for his own political good or earn their wrath because the Patel community was the one that built him up when he was in Gujarat. It is like small investors in a megacorporation now demanding a high dividend. That calculation is flawed simply because Modi is no longer just ruling a captive state that was Gujarat but a deeply diverse and politically fragmented country. In his mind he knows that only about 31 percent of the Indian electorate voted for him and his party in 2014.
More than anything else what the Patel agitation does is seriously threaten to undermine the success of the much touted “Gujarat model” of economic growth, which has been about industry-intensive policies. If nearly 18 million Patels out of Gujarat’s 63 million population can be made to think they have got a raw deal under this model, it could be seriously problematic both for the model and those who propagate it. It would be extravagant for Hardik Patel to claim that he speaks for the entire Patel community of Gujarat but he can certainly create that perception with some generous help from the broadcast media. We live in the time of optics and the optics as presented by the current agitation do not look good at all for anyone, the least of all the prime minister.
Much consternation has been expressed about the “mysterious” rise of a 22-year-old underachiever who now appears to set the political discourse. I couldn’t possibly tell you what explains that but that is not as important as the fact that he now exists on the periphery of realpolitik and could disrupt a few calculations.
At the same time, there is every possibility that the agitation would loose its edge like many such agitations before it and merge indistinguishably into the larger national disquiet. For now it is enjoying a news cycle, something that all agitators do for a while. Show me a revolutionary and I will show you a jaded, disillusioned old person some years later. Revolution wears off like everything else.
As ridiculous as it is, the term Asian in America generally describes Chinese. It is one of those lazy American constructs that has struck roots in defiance of geographical and ethnic realities. I have come across Americans many times who look at me flabbergasted when I describe myself as Asian.
With the embarrassing debate on “anchor babies” and whether they are mainly Asian (meaning Chinese) rages on among the Republican Party’s aspirants for president, let me point out a few elementary facts. Asia is the largest and most populous continent on the planet. It consists of 48 countries as recognized by the United Nations and six other states where a total of 4.4 billion people live. It is home to at least three of the oldest civilizations in the world, thousands of years old, where hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken. Incidentally, it is also the birthplace of all religions, including Christianity in whose name and under whose cover many of the Republican candidates routinely take shots at others. I can go on with many staggering facts about Asia but these should be enough to illustrate my point.
So when American politicians such as Jeb Bush claim that “anchor babies” are mainly Asian, meaning Chinese, he needs to take a crash course in elementary geography or he can read this blog. As for the debate on “anchor babies”, meaning babies that are born to parents who reside in the United States without proper documents, I think the candidates need to go back in history only little a bit when Europeans began coming here. One can be fairly certain that just as the officers of the British East India Company landed unmolested on what are now Indian shores, they did not come to America with passports or multiple entry business visas or visitors’ visas stamped by the native population. They just got off their boats and began living wherever they landed, either in America or India. As the great British comic Eddie Izzard points out what the Brits had going for them was that they had a flag.
The sacredness that is attached to passports and visas and how they lend humans the dignity of a nationality is a relatively modern idea. I grant that in the absence of those we will have anarchy but let us not become so completely dickish about them either that we lose our essential humanity.
That said the issue of babies being born for the specific purpose of gaining US citizenship does exist in America and it is said to be more prevalent among the Chinese visitors. However, figures are not so staggering as to alter America’s demographic balance in a manner that would necessarily defeat the white jingoistic male politician. That may happen because of those “legal” immigrants, who came through a proper process that is so loved by many politicians, and their natural born children. There is a simple rule about electoral politics. You cannot kick someone in the groin and then ask for their votes. It just does not happen.
In a piece in The New York Times this morning, Josh Barro points out this:
“Although birth tourism is real, it’s not clear that it’s a significant social problem. News media accounts citing “industry publications” have put the number of annual births to birth tourists at 50,000 or 60,000, but the more reliable Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 9,075 births in the United States in 2013 to people who do not reside here. By definition, birth tourists return to their home countries, taking their American citizen children with them. They do not stay and place a continuing burden on public services.
It’s possible their children will return later, and after they turn 21, these young adults can start sponsoring their relatives for American citizenship. But while immigration skeptics typically worry about the fiscal burden from low-skill, low-income immigrants, birth tourism is available only to foreigners who have a fair amount of money already. A Rolling Stone article in February profiling a Chinese couple that traveled to Los Angeles to have a child estimated their expenses at $35,000.”
I am not sure about the etymology of ‘anchor babies’ but it may have to do with the belief that once they have babies here in America those unauthorized visiting parents have dropped an anchor to stay here. I could be wrong in my interpretation but I feel that to be the case. Xenophobia is always in the mix when it comes to electoral politics because it fires up the committed base and gives a candidate mouthing it early traction. Xenophobia can come couched in economics as in the H1B visas or in security as in undocumented people committing crimes. Some of that fear is well-founded but it is not well-founded because they lack the stamp of immigration legality but because they just happen to have criminal propensity. This is not an easy debate and it occurs in many democracies.
My only submission would be to stop insulting those who did not have the fortune of being born in America or other countries where living a decent life is relatively easy. You look around any of these countries and realize that other than randomness of nature most of those who were born in affluent countries had no qualification. So let’s cool it down.
The Sunwalker by Mayank Chhaya
Not all verses can or should become full poetry. Some deserve to just stand alone. Lately, I have written quite a few. I prefer them these days because they have the virtue of brevity and therefore distilled thinking.
I have chosen the following few. The translation, I am afraid, is never as good as the original. It is not my case that the original are good but I like them.
कौन से ख़ौफ़ की गिरफ्त में हो तुम
जो दुआ में उठे हाथ से भी सर बचाते हो
What fright has gripped you
That you duck even at hands raised in prayer?
किस मसाइल-ए-हिन्द पे मैं जंग छेड़ दूँ
हर एक गली में लश्कर-ए-पायमाल मौजूद है
Which crisis in India should I wage war on
There are forces of destruction in every street
यह तो ज़रूरी नहीं के सब रोशन ज़माना करे
किसी को तो ज़ुल्मत से वाबस्तगी रखनी है
It is not for everyone to illuminate the world
We also need those who court darkness
अंतरिक्ष की ना ही कोई व्याख्या और ना ही कोई अर्थ
उसका वर्णन है असंभव और अस्तित्व भी व्यर्थ
Space has no definition, nor any meaning
Its description impossible, its existence futile
किनारे किनारे निकलते हैं वोह
इशारे इशारे समझते हैं वोह
मोम सा है वजूद उनका
शरारे शरारे पिघलते हैं वोह
She moves furtively
She communicates in hints
Her existence fragile like wax
She melts with every spark
I am not columnist Charles M. Blow and this blog is not The New York Times. What it means is that what I write here is hardly read and I am of zero consequence. That said, since I had already completed my piece below about Donald Trump before I read Blow’s ‘Enough is Enough’ column today, I might as well publish it.
My interest in Trump, as in life generally, has been of clinical nature in so much as I look at his campaign with surgical detachment. I have viewed his increasingly unfunny farce with rapidly depleting attention. Trump is the embodiment of a certain kind of quintessential American. He couldn’t have existed without the conniving and fertile socio-economic and cultural ecology that America offers. If he appears to be flourishing now with his forever unvarnished pronouncements, it is a measure of that ecology. One cannot denounce Trump without denouncing that ecology. I am not going to do it because my interest in the human species is at best desultory and my expectations from it in terms of standards of behavior non-existent.
With that out of the way, I am finished with Trump. I say this fully aware of my utter inconsequentiality to the human discourse generally and US discourse particularly.The man holds no curiosity for me even clinically. Unlike Blow I am not disengaging from Trump out of disgust but simply because even my detachment has worn off. TNN, I mean CNN, had him yesterday in some context and I went completely blank looking at his face. It was one of those natural switch-offs. He was saying something with his mouth pouched up but I saw only unique contortions of his face without my ears registering any sound at all. When that happens I move on to another sample.
He could well be the Republican Party’s nominee for president and eventually president of the United States. None of that will matter to me at any level at all. I feel zero need to counter him on anything. Mine is not the path of least resistance. Mine is the path of pure non-interest. My detachment has always been yogic.
I could easily analyze Trump’s evident success in commandeering a section of the popular American imagination. But what would be the point of that? None whatsoever. His vulgar self-assurance is in many ways a consequence of the conniving socio-economic and cultural ecology. I say more power to him because the multitude that follows him wants an agency through which they can live out their own angst and aspiration. In India, hundreds of millions have found it in Prime Minister Narendra Modi who too displays somewhat comparable smug self-assurance.
With that I conclude my Trump-watching.