Friday, September 19, 2008

Of quandaries and conundrums!

This post has been brewing for quite some time(which implies that it's a bit behind its times) but as issues go, this is one of the "immortals", so...

The issue of course, is Kashmir. Now I know that half the world has written on Kashmir and the other half has responded in the past couple of weeks. Amidst this cacophony of (often unbearably sanctimonious) noises, the issues involved, the players concerned and the human tragedy of it as usual, gets merged with the innumerable sound-bytes, the live reports, the dramatization and the studio debates- a truly post-modern condition. An Indian(interested albeit) living in the South of the country, has few options besides trawling through tons of information and making suppositions in the hope of gaining insights most others would not mind missing.

Of the many voices(and noises), two articles fascinated me the most. Both are by writers I avidly follow and sometimes disagree with. The interesting thing about Arundhati Roy' article/essay in "The Outlook" and Praveen Swami' s piece in "The Hindu" was the way in which these two views encapsulated the dilemma of those who follow this country's story yet keep all eyes open for the many crimes that are perpetuated in the name of nation, progress and duty.

It is true that neither of these writers can be compared. Arundhati Roy is a "professional dissenter", an individual who has made a career out of asking questions of the state(often in most eloquent/dramatic terms) and going for the jugular of the state whenever she has perceived it going against a specific moral standard. Praveen Swami is the quintessential establishment journalist, a prolific writer on issues of terrorism and Kashmir and often quoting what Ms Roy contemptuously refers to as "the inevitable "Intelligence" sources". Swami, on most occasions is an "unbiased" journalist-he critiques the state, Hindu/Muslim/Sikh fundamentalists, opportunist political figures, in short everybody. Roy, on the other hand, is at her best when she attacks the very foundation of the state, the very beliefs that a lot of the middle class cherish-in fact a reader often feels that the attack sometimes becomes a theatrical device with a will of its own.

The last paragraph was necessary as an explanation to the very obvious difference that shouts itself out when someone reads the articles. Arundhati Roy sees the protests over the Amarnath Shrine Board as reflective of the overwhelming anti-India sentiment among the populace of Kashmir. As she puts it "The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at rallies are not leaders so much as followers". Swami on the other hand, writing a lead-page article, analyses the whole issue through the angle of two of the prominent separatist leaders of the movement, Syed Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Roy advocates the separation of Kashmir from India(for the sake of both entities). Swami writes in the tradition of the classical analyst, seeking damage control, solutions short-term and long-term but never for a moment even considering the idea of any radical change to India's territorial integrity.

It is unfair(especially to Swamy who has analyzed many other aspects of the struggle) to compare these two articles. Yet these two, in some senses, embody the split that often characterizes the thinking of an "open-minded" individual. A cursory reading of Roy is enough to feel the intensity of the struggle, her arguments on the stupidity and malice of the "Deep State" are to say the least, spot-on. Yet it is obvious (even to her?) that the Indian state cannot let go of Kashmir. Doing so will endanger the very concept of the country. The fragile glue that holds it together will vanish, leaving acrimony,vengeance and despair in its wake. India will cover Kashmir with a blanket or grip its throat and render it mute but will never let go of Kashmir. To do so will take the lid off similar cans of worms and spark off a million mutinies. We are all complicit in this act of silencing. We who enjoy the facilities of the Indian state, we who choose to disagree with it in the forums provided by it, Ms Roy who accuses the state, I who accuse her of being complicit in it....

This is not an attempt at constructing a Foucalt-ian nightmare. Nor is it a cry in the wild about "who will change the system". What I am wondering about is where to place the appeal to the "moral" that Roy excels in, in the context of our own explicit/implicit involvement and approval of the mechanisms of the Indian state. Or perhaps the question is whether dissent of Arundhati Roy's kind is of any value except as a theatrical prop. Swamy represents a line of argument which enables one to avoid these issues. According to this, Kashmir becomes a multi-player chess board. All players make mistakes, others take advantage of them, our job is to examine our mistakes, redress them and ensure victory. This argument begins and ends with the proposal that Kashmir is ours and we must keep it although we must also treat the Kashmiris as we would want them to treat us.

Swamy's argument seems like the best of two worlds. India gets to keep Kashmir and also keep it on "civilized" terms. It is convenient and enables one to take on the moral aura of being an honest critic. It is classic journalism. Roy' stand is, if I may say, convenient as well. Things have not reached a state where advocating the separation of India and Kashmir will get a writer thrown into a state dungeon. Her stand is that of the ultimate radical. It is pointless to pose, in that context, whether what one suggests is realistic or not. Or even whether radicalism of this sort is, at the end of the day, a way to just wear a bigger moral aura by criticizing the ones who wear them.

The problem is when one realizes that the present and the future are a combination of what the both of these divergent views suggest. The problem is when one sees that what is "morally" obvious is politically impossible and what is politically advisable is "morally" disreputable. It's not a new quandary. In fact it's as old as politics itself. Just that every once in a while it hits you hard leaving you bleeding and worse completely in the dark.

My profound apologies if these sounded like existential moans! That was not the intention.

P.S. A pretty powerful article by a critic(note the Indian-occupied Kashmir at the bottom) also beginning from an analysis by the media and going on to making some effective points(and some disputable ones).

P.S 2- I am generally bad with typos but this post had an unbelievable number of them. Most of them have been sorted out(I hope).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Failure and its benefits

J.K Rowling delivers the commencement address at Harvard. Nothing spectacular, nothing dazzlingly new...yet kind of powerful in its own way.

After all it does take some courage to go to Harvard and talk of failure, especially when much of what you write is still derided as children's stuff. Some sections of the audience weren't pleased. One wonders why!

(HT. PHD Comics)