Tag Archives: Deep Thoughts

Thousand

A picture tells a thousand words, they say. The Greeks set sail on a thousand ships for Troy.

Why a thousand? Why not a hundred? Why not a million? Why did Homer want there to be a thousand ships sailing out of Greece, carrying Agamemnon, Menelaus, Ajax, Achilles, Odysseus, and Nestor? Why must a picture tell a thousand words? Why does the number “thousand” have such a deep impact on our imaginations? A popular song goes:

“But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door.”

We’ve gone beyond a thousand these days. A start-up company is evaluated in millions, Bill Gates is worth billions, the US national debt is in trillions. A thousand dollars isn’t chump change, but it’s hardly a lot of money. You don’t even get a good macbook for one.

And yet, it remains romantic to a poet. “A thousand worries were etched across her brow as she turned to face him.” Try replacing thousand with million in that sentence. It breaks the metre. It breaks the style. It sounds plebian, as a friend of mine would say.

A thousand is a believable exaggerated number. Did the Greeks really sail to Troy in a thousand ships? All accounts of the port they sailed from tell us that it wasn’t big enough to hold that many. But for Homer, whose poetry manages to narrate a story more sublime than a thousand pictures, it had to be that many. The heroes of legend couldn’t go with anything less.

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The colours of the rainbow

I wrote this as an experiment. This piece does not reflect my true views on the LGBT community. As I am not a member of said community, it would be difficult for me to understand their views properly. Hence, I am neutral in the issue. If I were called to vote on the issue of gay marriage, for instance, I would not vote, no matter what the stakes.


“Should he have resigned?” he asked me.

“I don’t know, mate,” I said, working on my laptop.

“Come, on,” he urged me. “Think about it. Give me an opinion! I want to know your stand on it.”

I rolled my eyes. He could be such a drama queen at times.

“Forget the fact that I’m gay, mate,” he said. “And you know that I won’t hold anything against you.”

I sighed. “Fine,” I responded. “I don’t think Eich should have resigned from his post of Mozilla CEO. Happy?”

“Reasons, man!” he hollered, a large grin on his face. “I need your reasons!”

I groaned. The only way to oblige him here would be by acquiescing to his request. I took a deep breath.

“Look,” I began, “What is a company all about, hmm?”

“Building a product,” he replied.

“And what is Mozilla building?”

“Firefox, and Thunderbird, or they were building it anyway. Oh! And Firefox OS.”

“Exactly. And what does Brendan Eich’s stance on Gay marriage have to do with any of them?”

“A lot, I would think,” he replied, his voice turning a tad serious.

“How is that?” I asked.

“Well, imagine if my employer openly discriminated against the LGBT community,” he said. “Would I be comfortable working with him?”

“Mate, giving a donation to prop 8 is hardly discriminating against the LGBT community.”

“But it is!” he was getting serious now. It had started as fun, but I knew that this would need me to abandon my essay to focus properly. “He’s taking away my right to be with the man I want!”

I sighed. “No one’s taking your right to do that away. What you can’t do is legally marry him.”

“And isn’t that discrimination?” he pointed out. “Isn’t that the kind of discrimination sane, thinking human beings want to put an end to? I realise that you’re not particularly receptive to the feelings of the LGBT community yourself, but you’ve never said anything against their agenda either.”

“Well, think about it this way,” I said. “What is the end product of a marriage?”

“Happiness,” he replied instantly.

“Well, lots of heterosexual men would object, but no, that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“Children,” I replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

He stared at me. “Man,” he said at last. “That is so nineteenth century.”

“No, think about it,” I replied. “Can any other institution allow you to have children?”

“No,” he said.

“Then? The only thing a state gets out of a marriage is new citizens. If you take people’s emotions out of the equation, then what is the need to allow gay or lesbian marriage?”

“But you can’t take human emotions out of the picture,” he pointed out. “Lots of people marry for reasons other than bringing forth kinds into the world.”

“And yet a majority of those in a marriage end up having kids,” I pointed out.

“Agreed,” he admitted. “But still, children is not the reason people marry. People have children when they are comfortable enough. It’s just a side product of marriage.”

“The most important side product of a marriage,” I pounced on his statement.

“Happiness is the most important side product of a marriage,” he pointed out. “People get divorced because they’re unhappy in their marriages, you know.”

“I do,” I replied. “I know that marriages break apart because of tension between the couple. But that tension can be caused due to many factors. You need to be happy in whatever you’re doing. Children could be a major reason for that tension, so could religion. Who knows? Maybe the wife suddenly realises her husband is a dumbass. It could be anything.”

“So the point where we disagree is the biological side product of marriage,” he said. “Well, it has been proven that homosexuality is biological.”

“And you know something else?” I said. “The very nature of human reproduction means that homosexuality is doomed to die out.”

“And yet,” he countered with a smile, “it hasn’t.”

I smiled back. “It hasn’t,” I replied. “But again, we’ve drifted off topic. How does this discussion affect what Eich’s decision should have been?”

“Because Eich supports inequality,” he replied.

I sighed. “I don’t think he does, fella. You’re allowed to marry whichever female agrees to marry you, as am I. How’s that unequal? He never tried to make things unequal for you.”

“He’s taking away my right to love whoever I want and not get vilified for it.”

I stood up. “You know something? If I went back home and told my mother that I’ve fallen in love with a Black, African woman, my mother will try to be happy for me. But she won’t be as happy as if I had chosen a White girl. Quite a large faction of my ‘modern Indian family’ will be scandalized.

It would have been the same thing had I suddenly decided to go gay. My parents would have been supportive, I’m sure, but I’m certain my grandmother would have gone into depression.”

“Well, that’s not right either,” he pointed out. “That’s pretty racist and petty of them.”

“My point is,” I said, glancing at him to shut him up, “that their views don’t mean jack to me. I can go against my family’s views and not care that they’ll stop loving me. I think it’s pretty clear that Eich might have, at one point, been against gay marriage, the same way I am academically, but that hardly means that he’s going to order all the members of the LGBT community to GTFO or STFU. In fact, I doubt he would honestly care what you do in the confines of your house, or even if you bring your partner to work for some reason.”

“But imagine this,” he argued. “Your employer is working actively to make sure that you never get to marry a chick from another country. Would you still work with him?”

“But is Eich actively doing that?” I shot back. “He donated $1000 once to prop 8. If my employer had once donated to some cause I hate, short of a terror outfit, of course, I wouldn’t really care. I mean, yeah, I work for you, and we have different views on something. That’s it. End of story. We smile and move on. That’s what a professional should be like.”

“Except that you probably don’t have issues that hit so close to home,” he pointed out. “He’s not violating a fundamental right of yours.”

“He’s not violating one of yours either,” I countered. “His supported view is not enforced any more, and you’re hounding him for a donation he made to a cause which was supported by the majority at that time. It makes little sense.”

“I don’t feel comfortable working with someone who hates people like me. I don’t feel comfortable knowing that he has it in him to fund something which tries to take away from me something which makes me happy.”

“What? The right to be with your partner? No one’s doing that to you. You can’t marry him, but you’re free as ever to walk out into the sunset holding hands. No one can legally stop you.”

He threw up his hands. “You’re impossible.”

“No,” I replied smugly, “My point of view is different from yours. I’m speaking as the devil’s advocate here regarding LGBT rights. Of course you should have them. But even if your employer decides that he or she personally does not share your views, you should not let your professionalism suffer for it.”

“Also,” I continued after a short pause, “Movements like Feminism and even LGBT Rights tend to irritate me. They make a lot of noise. Yes. I agree that you need your rights. Yes, I know that you’re fighting for them. But why do you have to emphasize it all the time?”

“Because every waking second for us is a struggle,” he said softly. “We’re denied things you heterosexual men take for granted. Freedom to choose who you want.”

“Then get into the government and change things,” I pointed out. “Rallies and excessive noise, like feminism, actually creates animosity.”

“That’s how we make people understand, that’s how we force them to look at the issue.”

“And for someone like me who’s actually looked at it, it’s annoying. I sympathise with your plight. That doesn’t mean I’m going to lift a finger to help you.”

“Evil is propagated when good men decide to do nothing. Don’t be one of those men.”

I took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m not going to be an obstacle to someone who’s doing something about it. I’m not going to be someone who doesn’t support people working on this. But don’t expect me to take the initiative. It’s not my fight.

When LGBT decides to add polygamy to it, call me. I’ll be protesting right up there with the best of you.”

The Wrongness of Right: Part 1

Note: By Right, I don’t mean to talk about the so called right-wing politicians. They have their own place and deserve a discussion, for sure, but this is not it.

Introduction

Heaven, and hell. Hell and heaven. Two concepts taught to us at an early age in order to sensitize us to morality. Do good, and you get to go to heaven. You get to live with God, listen to choirs of angels serenade you to sleep, live for the rest of eternity with the greatest of the virtuous, and so on. It’s the prize every religion promises you (though the promises of 72 virgins still sound suspect to me) and a way for them to make you follow their tenets.

The stairway to heaven. The traditional goal of all intelligent life.
The stairway to heaven. The traditional goal of all intelligent life.

This is the carrot.

And if you do bad, it’s not heaven, but rather, hell, that you’ll land up in. Instead of God, you have the Devil (or a variation thereof), instead of choirs of angels, you have whip-wielding demons (not there if this turns you on, I hope) and instead of clouds and serenity, you have fire and brimstone. A bleak picture for any mere mortal.

This is the stick.

The logical fallacies surrounding the existence of God and various other reasons have lead to many people proclaiming themselves disgusted with religion and turning into atheists. Religion is for sheep, they say. God is for the weak-minded. Why does He not show himself? Is He afraid? And if He is, what is He afraid of, really? His own creations?

But almost no one declares themselves atheists because of this carrot and stick approach to morality. Even atheists have some semblance of morality within, and most of them live their lives according to this code. They might not believe in the traditional forms of heaven and hell, but they have consciences they listen to, and for the most part, the code of morality followed by theists and atheists is similar, if not the same.

“Thou shalt not kill”

But why is this so? Is morality really that absolute? Some philosophers philosophize that there is something known as an absolute truth. Would it be a stretch to say that there is something called absolute morality as well? The Bible certainly thinks so. There is a commandment given to Moses by God which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Admirable, really. And by modern standards, it conforms perfectly with the concept of human rights. Taking the lives of fellow citizens is something frowned upon by the law of any country, as it perfectly well should be.

But take the case of a person fighting against a physically stronger person about to rape her. She manages to grab hold of a knife, and in the confusion that follows, instead of simply disabling his ability to ever rape anyone again, she manages to cut open his stomach and allows him to bleed to death.

Any competent lawyer will argue self-defence. But that commandment given to Moses had no exceptions. God did not say, “Thou shalt not kill (see footnote 1 for exceptions)”. God did not provide any appendix filled with legalese about situations in which murder was acceptable. Even if the person was exempted and cleared of all charges by the judge and jury on Earth, the court of the Lord would still find her guilty of breaking a sacred commandment. Since the commandment does not mention circumstances, a plea regarding circumstances would probably not amuse Him.

And just like Adam and Eve who did naught but gain knowledge, you too shalt be kept out of Paradise.
And just like Adam and Eve who did naught but gain knowledge, you too shalt be kept out of Paradise.

Another commandment mentions, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine you were sitting across a man who gives you an ultimatum. He says that your missing wife, who you love from the bottom of your heart and are sick with worry for, is with him. Before you can let all your tension out with your breath, he tells you that she will be returned unharmed on one condition. You must testify against the character of your neighbour in court tomorrow, else she may not be returned. If you decide to trick him, then your wife will be returned, but she might be “damaged goods”. His tone sends a chill up your spine. You have 12 hours in which to decide your next move, oh, and don’t worry about the coffee. It’s on him.

Your hands tremble as you make the decision of getting your wife back. The next day, you bear false witness to your neighbour. The man who accosted you yesterday wins the case. You cannot meet the eyes of your neighbour, who stares at you accusingly, screaming profanities at your retreating back as he is hauled off to Gitmo. And as soon as you reach back home, your wife flies into your open arms. You feel as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, it’s such a relief to hold her in your arms again. For that one moment, you can forget that you committed the capital crime of selfishness simply to send someone to hell on Earth and fulfil someone else’s agenda.

Or did you? Rewind a bit. The situation was such that someone was going to be killed/imprisoned no matter what. If you decided to be a good neighbour, then your wife would die, and the man who made you the deal would be imprisoned. Your neighbour’s agenda would be given a leg up. If you decided that you would get your wife back (as we just explored right now), your neighbour is going to be carted off to Guantanamo Bay and he might die there (the probability is pretty good that he will) or even if he doesn’t die, he’ll wish he had. Your neighbour’s opponent is the one whose agenda will be boosted, and in the end, you end up with one fewer person losing their life or freedom.

So did you sin?

According to God, you did. You bore false witness against your neighbour. But in doing so, you made sure that a fewer number of people were exposed to the kind of suffering that haunts most men in their nightmares. Is that not a good thing? Not according to the Bible. Just as in the previous “Thou shalt not kill” example, there are no exceptions to this rule. God will prosecute you all the same, even if you managed to save one of his treasured creations from certain death and/or worse.

So where does that leave us? Does this mean that all morality is subjective? Am I moral if my conscience is clear, like most atheists believe? It does seem a convenient way out of this situation. I’m moral if I kill my rapist. I’m moral if I manage to make sure that one less person is killed in this rigged trial. I did save a life here, after all!

And let’s say that this argument is accepted in heaven. All heaven looks at is the clarity of your conscience once you reach up there. If it’s clear as glass, you get to pass St. Peter. If it isn’t, you got an appointment with ol’ Lucy down in Hell. You can catch up on all the bad deeds you’ve done over a glass of frothing sulphuric acid and boiling mercury. That leads to another catch.

Invoking Godwin

Let’s invoke Godwin’s law here, it’s high time. Adolf Hitler is the epitome of evil in the minds of most people. He should be too. Anyone who can order something as heinous as the holocaust has a few screws loose somewhere, and deserves to be vilified by the world.

The Nuremberg Trials were held to give to the Nazis what they denied so many others. Justice.
The Nuremberg Trials were held to give to the Nazis what they denied so many others. Justice.

Let’s do another thought experiment. Hitler has just killed himself, and is standing for judgement. God asks him, “Is your conscience clear? Do you think you did the right thing back on Earth?” Adolf thinks about it. He remembers the screams of the Jews who died in front of him, he remembers the political opponents he had murdered, he remembers the troops he had sent to Stalingrad. He remembers the battle of Britain. He remembers the choice he gave the Desert Fox. He remembers the Volkswagen Beetle which led to thousands of people getting access to cars in Germany. He remembers the other things accomplished by the Nazis which led to some sort of rise in living standards of ordinary Germans. And he answers, “Yes, my conscience is clear. What I did to the Jews was necessary, and the rest of the world is mad for not believing in it. And the other things I did, well, it was for the good of the world. Those idiots Churchill and Roosevelt have no brains. If they did, they would have joined me.”

God sees that Adolf Hitler believes in what he’s saying, and lets him into heaven, where he joins everyone else who feel they did the right thing back on Earth. That list will soon include Gandhi and Mandela, but because of the way we defined morality, it also includes Cardinal Richelieu, Genghiz Khan and Emperor Nero. It’ll also include Saddam Hussein.

Is this fair? Can someone like Hitler potentially share the same moral high ground as Gandhi? Of course not. It sounds wrong to almost everyone who reads this. Then how can we define morality such that obvious cases like this are handled properly? Can morality be defined properly at all?

Protesting against politics

This article (Global protest grows as citizens lose faith in politics and the state – The Guardian) came out a couple of days ago, and not really having time, I archived it. The article talks about a very peculiar thing about the twenty first century. Protests.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that protests are hardly new to this world. Protests have ranged from being irritants to toppling the Bourbon regime in pre-revolution France. However, one thing is for sure. Today’s protests are different from the ones seen earlier. The video below should be a good indicator of the breadth and scale of these protests.

A change in what people are protesting for

Earlier, when people would protest against something, it would be:

  • Against harsh economic conditions
  • Against a ruler waging too much war

Now do remember, I’m talking about common people revolting against the state, not nobles plotting intrigue and planning to overthrow kings. This means that in the days gone by, people generally protested when things got too tough for them. Compare that to today’s protests.

The Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre Houël
The Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre Houël

The occupy movement wasn’t exactly a movement against harsh economic conditions. For those of you who will argue with me on this, I will agree that the movement would not have happened without the crash of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. However, the crowd wasn’t protesting against the harsh economic conditions of the day, rather, it was protesting the actions of the government in solving the crisis. Note the distinction. In other words, the people were protesting against government policies and were doing so knowingly. Their aim was not to change the government or its leader, all they wanted to do was to ensure the government changes its policies.

A poster of the Occupy Wall Street Movement - creator: Lalo Alcaraz
A poster of the Occupy Wall Street Movement – creator: Lalo Alcaraz

Another form of protest, albeit a much more controversial form, is the type done by the group Anonymous. Hidden in the shadows and striking out against targets they believe have committed great wrong to a particular community is their modus operandi. In a way, they may be likened to Robin Hood, who would only prey upon the rich to give tot he weak. Anonymous claims to do the same thing, but instead of dealing in money, they deal in control. Anonymous is a group which tries to prove that the control their targets believe they exercise over a particular set of data is not as absolute as they like to think. While condemned by governments and gaining a mixed response from the online community, they nonetheless have managed to enter the collective psyche and have become something akin to a symbol.

Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

And finally, another form of protest we can talk about are the protests against rape in Delhi. These protests aren’t against widespread problems (in the same sense of the word as economic problems are). While chronic rapes in the Indian capital are a cause for worry, they are hardly a cause of fear for the majority. In older days, people would have looked away and not bothered, knowing that it wasn’t their own problem. However, the situation has been turned on its head today, what with widespread education, mass media and the Internet having created a collective conscience and the ability to draw upon it.

Delhi Rape protests
Delhi Rape protests

 

But against whom are we protesting?

In older days, rulers would govern in the absence of fast and free-flowing information. Information would travel as fast as a horse, which, admittedly, is hardly quick. However, to use an old cliche, today, information travels at the speed of light. In older days, rulers would change and bend slowly, knowing that the effects of these new laws would spread slowly and unevenly. However, with both the rapid spread of information and fast-changing markets, governments have sadly become bottlenecks instead of enablers.

Government procedures are designed to be foolproof and safe in order to make sure that ineffective policies do not get drafted. People specialized in lawmaking sit down and make laws based on existing policies. For years, it was thought that public involvement in lawmaking should be limited to choosing their representatives and nothing else. For an interval, this approach was absolutely correct, seeing that very few people had basic education and the knowledge to make a difference at that level.

However, fast forward to the present. Education is slowly, but surely becoming the norm. With the advent of mobile phones and fast wireless internet, a large number of people can be kept in the know in real-time. People debate and discuss things on online forums, numerous polls are conducted daily for random questions, information is disseminated rapidly and feedback is collected even more quickly. People propose change in isolated forums and get petitions signed in order to see their proposals reach the light of the day.

And the government? Let’s just say it’s stuck in the stone age.

People are protesting this lack of malleability. They are protesting current governments’ lack of ability in adapting to new situations. They are protesting against the glacial speed of lawmaking. And most of all, they are protesting against not being included in the proceedings.

Governments of the world, wake up. We’ve let you know what we want. The ball is in your court now.

A Diseased Society: Looking Within

Sometimes, it’s worth thinking about the times someone reflects your deeds back at you. I think that you’ve guessed that I’m talking about the Delhi Rape Case. And you’ll be wondering. Another commentator mouthing off about that? Not again!

Well, I’ve written about something similar once before. As I read that post again and reflect on what I was thinking at that time, I realise that not much has changed in my head. I still feel disgusted. I still think that this country has become a cesspool of idiots who have no idea what civilization truly means. I still believe that many Indians are simply not willing to learn about modern civilization and the few rules it absolutely requires them to bind themselves by.

But when I say that not much has changed, I must concede that there is some portion of this society which has understood the malaise gripping the unconcerned majority. The many protests in metro cities and the rippling anger of youth do point to some form of awakening. Though I know not whether these are the thrashes of a dragon mumbling in its sleep or the rumblings of one just woken up, I am hoping for the latter.

There are problems with directing this anger, though. Many people occupy themselves by demanding more stringent laws, asking for a better police force, blaming men and countless other such things. While I do agree that these are problems, I think that they point to a deeper problem than the one we’re admitting to ourselves. Or maybe we do know it, but choose to turn a blind eye towards it, seeing that it’s the easiest thing to do.

Somehow, Dumbledore’s words come to mind. Something about dealing with what’s right, and what’s easy. Ironic that I look to an Englishwoman for the right words here.

Our society has traditionally been a patriarchal one. Boys are given more preference than girls in almost every way. Sometimes even in ways we cannot ourselves control because of their instinctive nature. It all starts with the parents who expect their girl to be a demure, shy damsel who lowers her eyes while talking to anyone. She is taught to be submissive and timid from a very young age. She’s expected to help her mother in the kitchen, be a responsible young lady and smile modestly when addressed, saying little.

In contrast, boys are generally allowed, almost encouraged, to be rowdy and aggressive. A few fights here and there are considered “making one’s bones” in several parts of the country. A rude boy is oft-considered a wily rascal by his fond parents, but a rude girl is a shame. Boys are allowed to have unlimited tantrums and demands, but very few girls are given that privilege. There are many families with educated fathers who would prefer that their own girl be educated till the bare minimum, namely till the point where she can help her son in school during his formative years. Tenth grade. Twelfth, if she’s lucky.

And even for those who do go to school, gender equality is not really taught in our schools, is it? I mean, yes, boys are told that girls are equal to them, but how is it really enforced? In school, a teacher drills “not-spitting” into a child. She drills the necessity not to litter as well. She teaches them patriotism and polite behaviour. But teaching them about the equality of girls and boys, about the crimes boys commit against girls and the horrible trauma as a result is taboo in our society. It’s generally mentioned brusquely and then forgotten. In some cases, forever.

And look where that brings us. Indifferent parents, indifferent teachers and an indifferent society. There’s a very good reason India’s ranked one of the worst places to be born a girl in. Not only are you unsafe inside the womb (gender-specific abortion), but completely vulnerable outside too. There are girls well below the age of consent who are being felt up, fondled or worse while I’m writing this. And the sad bit is, most of the people who’re doing this are are friends and family of the parents. When the parents get to know about what’s happening, they mostly tell the girl to be quiet and try to limit her exposure to the man. This leads to a mindset. A very ugly mindset. It tells the girl that whatever happens, once she gets violated, there’s no one to help her. There’s no one to hold her hand and tell her that everything’s about to be OK, that nothing will be able to hurt her any more, that her parents and society will work together and do everything to make sure that the person involved knows just how wrong he is. Instead, a subconscious notion of being helpless fills the girl.

Of course, there are other things which make this very difficult as well. Uncooperative police, a painfully slow judiciary and an unsympathetic or rather, a non-existent social support system. But I believe that these are simply the symptoms of a diseased society. In fact, when I was discussing the abnormal number of rape cases in India with a friend, her response to me was, “Well, Look at our population. Don’t you think we’d have a correspondingly larger number of rapes as well?” It’s probably harder to deal with all those cases, or so she thought.

Well, I’m not comfortable thinking along those lines. I honestly believe that when it comes to things like rapes, every society should have zero tolerance. I mean, many crimes have extenuating circumstances which allow you to legally commit them, and no, I’m not talking about theft. More like murders. You can get away with killing someone for self-defense, if your lawyer can prove you really were in danger. However, there’s no such circumstance for rape. There’s no excuse for violating someone in such a horrifying way and staining her soul for life.

So for all those who advocate equating rape with murder in our laws, consider this, while murder does away with a person’s life and causes immeasurable grief to said person’s family, rape destroys a girl’s life without killing her, condemning her and hers to a life of eternal shame. How can they even be compared?

And a small message to those who persist on calling for more stringent laws, stronger police and other such things, please, people, start with yourself. It starts very innocently. The planting of such an idea is so subtle, it almost seems as if it was Leonardo Di Caprio’s work from Inception. Maybe a sudden liking for Yo Yo Honey Singh, maybe a liking for violent porn. That’s how it grows, you know. It may never go beyond that, and for many, it doesn’t. But there’s always a chance that it will. And it’s best to watch out.

An immature society: rapes, rants and rotten roots

Let me make it abundantly clear. I come from Chandigarh, the capital of the state of Haryana, where this screwed up business actually happened. However, like any other thinking man, actually accepting all of this makes no sense to me. Or rather, I am of the belief that it should make no sense to anyone. I realise this opinion is a bit late in coming, but bear with me. I’ve actually got down to write after a few months, a few days delay should be OK by most.

Around a week ago, the Sarva Khap Jat panchayat, the umbrella organisation of all the khaps in the Jat world decided to meet in Sonipat to discuss a bizarre issue, namely the lowering of the legal age at which girls can get married to 15. No, Faking News did not strike again, sorry folks. This news, sadly enough, is very real. The khaps have gone around the bend, and after linking Noodles with rapes, have decided that the best way to reduce the number of rapes taking place in Haryana is to simply reduce the legal age limit at which girls can get married.

Now, to put it all in perspective, Haryana is a state where there have been around 15 rapes in one month. Not a statistic to be proud of. No matter what your population, 15 newspaper-covered rapes means hundreds of undocumented ones. Sad, isn’t it? And the saddest part of all of this is that Haryana has one of the lowest sex ratios in all of India. It’s close to 750, if memory serves.

Now, to all the readers not aware of the position of khaps in Haryana society, let me clarify. They have no constitutional right to exist. A khap is simply an unconstitutional court passing judgements on those it deems unworthy in its village. The practice of having khaps arbitrate seems to point at the failure of two systems. First, the local judiciary, and second, the local education system. While certainly not as backward as the Taliban or the Mali rebels, Haryana khaps do have a very conservative (and that’s putting it mildly), almost medieval view of things. A khap passes judgement as and when it pleases. While I’m not very familiar with the functioning of a khap myself, I’m certain that khaps exist to satisfy the “preserve-our-culture” urges of old men who cannot accept the pace at which the society around them is changing.

If a man decides to marry outside his caste (yes, the system is followed in the rural areas, let not the reports of social progress deceive you) in a Haryana village, he’d better hide somewhere they’ll never think of searching. Honor killings are so very common it’s almost unbelievable. I’m guessing that if the media decided to report every case of honor killing done to avenge the “shame of the girl running off with the guy”, newspapers would be a hundred pages long and TV channels would need more than 72 hours in a day to collectively cover everything.

What does all of this indicate? I’m guessing that it indicates a view of the world so fundamentally at odds with today’s worldview that there can be no assimilation. It’s one thing to be paternalistic. But to disrespect girls so much as to approve of female infanticide, honor killings in case of love marriages (the norm around the world, still a wonder in India) and to treat them as mere objects to be owned at a man’s convenience seems to indicate a rot more ingrown than mere fundamentalism. “Mere” fundamentalism, the enlightened social scientist may ask? Yes, mere. The Taliban and these khap panchayats do many of the same things. Mere fundamentalism can simply be something like the Salafism of the eighties and nineties. Those Salafists were not political, they were not violent. They advocated themselves yes, just like any other sect, but they allowed you choice. If you wished to be one, go ahead. Otherwise great. Whiel their values and strict interpretation of Sharia might not win them brownie points in anyone’s eyes, they are still not beyond fundamentalism.

Khaps, however, go beyond just strict adherence to a set of rules.The enforcement of these rules by force and the removal of all choice related to them is barbaric, and their usurpation of the justice system and the imposition of their values as the values of Haryana rural society thwart all attempts at a rational modernisation of these areas. If the presence of cell phone towers and vehicles were enough to indicate modernisation, the world would look elsewhere to find backwardness. But I believe that the best way to measure moderisation is to see the way a society treats its women. That reflects its maturity.

And these khaps, I’m afraid, are stuck in early adoloscence with a bad case of teenage angst.

Esmeralda

It was pouring cats and dogs that day. Heaven seemed to have been flooded, it seemed, and someone was doing a mighty good job of cleaning it. Richard stared at the sheets of rain wondering when it would abate. He was stranded alone at a bus stop a while from home.

He looked at his watch. 12:30 pm. It would already be half an hour into the meeting. Richard hid a grimace, forcing down his feeling of guilt. His presence was required in this one, else their venture would never succeed. More than anything else, Tom would kill him. Tom had been insisting on him leaving his home earlier, but Dick had refused, knowing that he would be there on time.

He was wrong. He stared out, watching the blurred outlines of cars moving slowly on slippery roads, the sounds of their horns and wheels mixing with the steady patter of constant rain in a rather jarring fashion. Richard gritted his teeth. He did not like loud noises.

A cow mooed near him. He turned to look. It was staring at him, its eyes clear, bored and uninterested. He was just another random human, no different from the thousands of pedestrians it saw on a daily basis.

‘Is this what I’ve been reduced to?’ thought Richard bemusedly. Staring at cows and analysing their thought processes? Conan would kill me. Conan always accused him of thinking too much. Richard countered by saying that Conan had air between his ears. Despite this argument, though, Conan was the man Richard would bet his life on whatever the situation. Though he didn’t look the type, he would give an arm and a leg for his friends if needed.

The sound of footsteps broke him out of his thoughts. He looked up to see another person hurry into the shelter of the bus stop.

Richard looked at her in interest. She was a fine specimen. He could see brown hair peeking out from under the raincoat and two very dainty hands fiddling with the bag. The green raincoat went well with her fair complexion. She looked youngish, close to twenty if he wasn’t mistaken.

Almost as if she could feel his gaze, she looked up at him.

Black eyes, was all Richard’s mind could come up with before his thoughts caught up with his body. He immediately averted his gaze, cheeks flaming. Getting caught staring was always a humiliating experience. At least, thought Richard wryly, I’ll get to know what she looks like when pissed. He kicked himself mentally. Way to go, Dick. You just lived up to your name. Now she hates you without knowing who you are.

He looked out at the street again, irritated. He was stuck with a pretty girl in an awkward situation of his own creation. The bus system was also down, he had no idea about the length of time he would be spending with this unknown girl. It just didn’t get worse than that.

Almost inadvertently, his eyes moved to catch another glimpse of her…

…just to see her eyes shift away from his face.

Richard was flabbergasted. She had been staring at him? At him of all people? He suddenly felt ten feet tall and as well endowed as the greatest of porn actors. She’d been staring at him. In his moment of elation, it didn’t even occur to him that the only reason she was doing that was because there was no one else to stare at. Right now, there was one hill, and he was king. Hell yeah, it felt great.

He sneaked another glance at her. She was looking out at the street, but Richard was sure that she’d been staring at him just a moment ago.

He took a deep breath. He fixed his eyes on the goal.

And he began walking.

His field of vision narrowed and his heart rate sped up. Time slowed down as he became acutely aware of his own movements. Every step, every swing of his arms, every breath going through his nose, they all seemed to be twice as noisy and awkward. His footsteps rang loud in his ears as he made his way towards the final destination. If life would have had background music, decided Richard suddenly, the “Mission Impossible” theme would certainly fit this situation the best.

His throat was dry and his lips chapped. He silently cleared his throat before coming to a stop before her. Her eyes were on him, with what seemed a questioning lilt to that gaze.

His eyes drank in her features. Up close, she was even more beautiful than he had imagined. Her hair was a deep, chestnut brown. Her skin was fair, almost pale, the only imperfection being a small spot on her chin. Her eyes were perfectly shaped, the lashes just the right length. Her nose was regal, giving her a royal appearance.

“Well?” she said, her eyes betraying her amusement. “Are you going to say anything? Or keep staring till we both drop dead?”

Richard blushed. “Well,” he said, “I was thinking of introducing myself.”

“Go ahead then.”

Richard sighed. “You’re not gonna make this easy, are you?”

“Nope!” she replied cheerfully. “What’s the fun in that?”

“Oh kay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Here goes nothing. Hi. I’m Richard.”

“Esmeralda.”

“I’m twenty one.”

“I’m twenty.”

“I’m a physicist.”

“That’s a load of bull.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Oh yes it is.”

Richard huffed and crossed his arms. “Oh, and how do you figure that one out?”

She tilted her head and stared at him in a pitying manner. “Elementary, my dear boy, all you have to know is where to look.”

Richard stared. “So where did you look?”

She smirked. “Wherever I looked, I found it wanting.”

Richard’s cheeks heated up. She was baiting him! Well, he thought snidely, two can play that game, mademoiselle.

“I of course cannot say the same,” he said, a winsome smile playing on his face. “I found you very gifted, I must say. Almost too gifted.”

It was her turn to flush now.

“So,” Esmeralda changed topics rather pointedly, or so Dick thought. “What are you doing out here on such a stormy day?”

Richard shrugged. “Nothing much. The same as you I guess, waiting for a bus to take me from point A to point B.”

She laughed. “No silly,” she said, “Why are you out at all? Why did you not go back when you saw the weather change for the worse?”

“Because I needed to get to a meeting.”

She raised an eyebrow. “A meeting? You’re twenty one.”

He smiled. “And I had to be in a meeting. What’s so unbelievable in that?”

She shook her head. “Richard, Richard, Richard…”

“What?”

“Richard!”

And suddenly, the scene dissolved. Tom stood in front of him, peering at him from behind his glasses.

“Get up! We have to reach on time for the meeting today!”

“Esmeralda?” croaked Richard.

Tom stared at him. Richard never saw the glass of ice-cold water that ended up on his face.