September 26, 2005

CHAIPANI : making sense of India

What is it that represents the essence of India ? Is it possible for us to locate a core set of knowledge values and beliefs that define the experience of being Indian ? Is there a set of definitive landmarks that help us understand the contours of the Indian mindscape ? A few months ago an unknown filmmaker had released a hindi movie in India called Chaipani ... based on the theme of the eternal 'chaipani', 'baksheesh', 'ghoose', 'commission', 'cut' -- call it what what you want -- that is essential if you need to get anything done in India ... especially from the government. That is what set me thinking ... does Chaipani really represent the India that we know ? Perhaps not ... but then from another perspective ... perhaps it does .... let us see how

C : C is for CORRUPTION that is nearly synonymous with India. Whether it is the Prime Minister or whether it is the not-so-humble peon, we all know that they come for a price and for not too high a price. But why blame the government ... as is the people, so are the princes ! Given half a chance, there is a great probability that the average India will have no qualms about breaking the law and making some money in the process. After all we have seen it all our lives ... fudged LTA receipts, income not reported to the Income Tax, receipt overlooked to save on sales tax ... it has all become natural and normal. Just as it is normal for a doctor to take a cut from the diagnostic centre or for a gynaecologist to frighten an expecting couple to opt for a Caesarian section when a normal delivery could have been done for fraction of the cost. Corruption is endemic to if not synonymous with authority in India.

H : H is for HYPOCRISY that is very evident at all levels of Indian society. We revere the mother goddess as Shakti, Durga, Kali and what not and yet we have no compunction about killing of the female foetus and compounding the hypocrisy is the fact that violence and torture against women is very often led by the lady of the house ... the story of the saas-bahu conflict has been immortalized in perhaps a million TV serials by now. But again why just blame the women ? We criticize apartheid in South Africa and yet we are intensely racist. Not only in our caste system but also in the fact that even when we go to the US on scholarships we have a great distaste for 'kallu's -- the African-Americans. Our labour unions cry hoarse about workers rights but the leadership has no qualms about being bought off by the management and sell the workers down the river. Our student unions are as removed from genuine students as chalk is from cheese.

A : A is for ANARCHY that descends whenever a group of Indians get together. Bandhs, strikes, rail-rokos, agitations, we have it all. It is impossible for us to settle any dispute in a civil manner. Orders are meant to be disobeyed if they do not conform to our own idea of what is right. This credo was immortalized by, no less than, our good friend Mohandas himself .. Mohandas of the Civil Disobedience fame ! And his followers, first moronic and subsequently cynical, have exploited his halo to the hilt ... to the point that anarchic behaviour -- that hardly ever results in anything positive -- is the hall mark of the potential politician in India.

I : I is for sheer INCOMPETENCE that is evident in all levels of Indian society. Corruption, hypocrisy and anarchy combine in equal measure to ensure that the worst possible people end up with the responsibility for the most crucial tasks .... ranging from traffic management to managing the national economy. And it shows !! Infrastructure in India is crumbling not because we do not have the means ( money, materials and knowledge ) to make it work but because we mess it up in a manner that only we could. And why just infrastructure ? Look at the BCCI, the Olympic Associations, Automobile Associations … you name it, we have messed it up.

P : P is for PATIENCE to put up with this cup of C H A I !! Any other nation would have committed hara-kiri out of sheer frustration and yet we soldier on hoping for a better day !! What is the source of this optimism ? The philosophy of karma and reincarnation. We believe that we are miserable today because of past misdeeds and we also believe that some day, even if that is in the next life, we shall overcome. We keep on hoping for the best, we hope that if we keep to the straight and narrow path of virtue there is someone, somewhere keeping the score and we shall be rewarded. But rewarded with what ? For that we need to turn to …

A : A for ADVAITA ! No, I am not joking or trying to facetious. The sheet anchor of the Hindu way of life is philosophy of Advaita Vedanta that states that the end result of the seemingly endless cycle of karma is when we have the convergence of the Knower, the to-be-Known and the process of Knowing itself. The trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva is as irrelevant as the thirty three million gods and goddesses that we profess to worship. This is because all these 'gods' along with the physical world that we claim to see around us is an illusory Maya .. like the virtual reality shown in movies like Matrix. Once that is out of the way, what we are left with at the end of this convergence is the concept of the potential divinity of man. And what is the nature of this Divinity ? it is ..

N : N is for NOTHINGNESS. Because this final divinity is without form, without shape, without colour, without qualities, without attributes. It cannot be described except as an endless chain of NOT-THIS, NOT THIS, NOT THIS till the end of this sentence. So it is no wonder that the concept of zero was thought of in this country. The Hindu word for zero is shunya translates into the semantic or philosophical concept of emptiness, in addition to the mathematical concept of zero. Perhaps that is no coincidence. Nothingness is perhaps the closest representation of that which lies beyond the pale or rational logic. And to cross over this hurdle, this barrier of rationality, we need to have …

I : I for INTUITION. The last, final and most potent arrow in the Hindu quiver. The Hindu nation is one where there is a slight majority of right-brained people. Western civilization and its clones in China and Japan are by contrast dominated by left-brained people. Left brain people are rational, logical and more likely to succeed in science, technology, and management. Right brain people are more emotional and intuitive. Societies dominated by leftists are more ordered and find it easier to organize themselves for higher efficiency in managing their own affairs and in converting resources into forms that meet basic animal, or human, needs. They know HOW to do things. India, on the other hand has an intuitive insight into the WHY of things. And that is why India, the real India, is and shall remain different, or perhaps indifferent, despite all our attempts at globalization.

1 comment:

Calcutta said...

Manu Rewal's satirical feature film 'Chai Pani Etc' starring National Award winning actress Konkona Sen Sharma in a double role and impressive newcomers Zafar Karachiwala and Gaurav Kapur, has been selected for the prestigious Montreal World film festival that will be held between Aug. 26 and Sept. 5 in the World cinema section.

this is the movie that inspired this post