Thursday, January 28, 2010


I was walking along, my brain busy with the day’s to do list, until, I came to a doorway and stopped.Thinking only of the notice I had to serve on a fellow advocate, my foot entered the stairwell, but my eyes called a halt. The stairs, in this old, slightly shabby building, were of teak wood, polished by years of feet drumming up and down, perfectly circular, venerable and awe-inspiring. The lawyer I was going to see was surprised I had even noticed, so commonplace had this piece of history become.

When you live in an old city, familiarity with heritage breeds contempt for it. The façade of the Madras High Court, with its Indo-Saracenic onion domes and steeples, stained glass and stone fretwork can become commonplace to those who go about their daily business within such gob-stopping environs. Down 1st Line Beach, the commonplace and often grim going-ons of the GT criminal magistrates’ court can obscure interest in the beautiful mosaic facings on red brick and stone pillars of the hoary building. When the prisoner in the lock-up gazes impudently at you, you often forget that he is last in point of time of many, going back to colonial times.

A beautiful red brick structure with graceful pointed arches and slim pillars houses the Aavin milk bar among others. Twisted gates open into a courtyard. If one can forget the commercial activity of the 21st century and the traffic just outside on Anna Road, then one can hear a nineteenth century horse’s neigh as it turns into the courtyard.

Grimy, neglected, forgotten, these signposts of memory still stand, mute witness to a new century and new echoes of humanity.

Of Grasshoppers & Locusts

2009 was the year of Revelations, whatever Nostrodamus had earmarked for it. Scandals galore rocked our nation- lawyers, judges, terrorists, politicians, personal trainers, filmstars [ this goes without saying] techies, airhostesses and their husbands, schools, secret agents, and ex-policemen and states. Astrologers said, I told you, Saturn [ the old order] and Uranus[ the new revolutionary] were at loggerheads. Whatever, it is, long may it continue, until our Augean stables are hygienic once more.
Trawling trough the net, I came across a comment in Sepia Mutiny that Arundhati Roy was getting shriller, though her book was condescendingly put up for nomination as best book of 2009[non-fiction].The book is very timely as it deals [ inter alia] with one of the terrible happenings of 2008- the Bombay blasts, which saw a very small turn-out, for the anniversary candle-lighting at the Marina in 2009, in Chennai. Her introduction, ‘Democracy’s Failing Light’ deals with the premise that the book examines- shining the torch on her murky corners. As she explains- it is not about uprooting democracy but realigning tottering structures. As she says-“ ‘Freedom’- has come to mean ‘choice.’ It has less to do with the human spirit and more to do with different brands of deodorant.”
If we listened to the grasshoppers she lets loose- Gujarat riots, anti-Sikh Delhi riots, Nandi gram, Dantewada, Kashmir, Geelani’s trial and the Parliamentary attack, Supreme Court’s injudicious[al]judgments, all at the head of armies of facts, then we would realize that our beautiful ‘ democracy’ is just a shade away from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. All of these, delivered in a package of media access and apparent transparency provided by ‘Inquiry Commissions’. We should ask the survivors of the anti- Sikh Delhi riots, or the anti- Muslim Gujarat riots, what they think[ one TV channel even did this- ask the Sikh survivors and bitter memory became a soundbyte of infotainment] of our democracy. That she escaped the fate of Hrant Dink, who was imprisoned several times for his attempt to write about the decimation of Armenians by the Turks and finally succumbed to the bullet of a boy right wing assassin, is nothing to be proud of. If we can rape and murder ordinary citizens with government complicity and never even provide adequate reparation or solace, we have already killed our collective conscience. And anyway, in a society where the peccadilloes of filmstars get more attention than even the shameful news that ‘shining India’ does not fulfill the most basic development indicators except for the very rich and the growing, upwardly thrusting middleclass which seems to have boarded a magic carpet to the Land of Plenty; where kindles and iphones are way more interesting than reducing carbon footprints, which anyway is merely one more thing on the babus’ agenda, is it not death to become passé, merely a ‘shrill’ voice whom nobody hears? By the way, who is shriller? Arnab Goswami who was engaging in an embarrassingly long rightist rant during the Maoist attacks in West Bengal or ‘ Grasshoppers’ which reads like the quiet voice of despair?
Despite all this, Roy ends her introduction saying that the book is just intended as a tool of correction, not a feral howl [did she hear the dissent even then?] and with a message of hope from Faiz
‘ If dreams are thwarted, then yearning must take their place.’