The race row – both sides of the coin stink

February 6, 2008

The Harbhajan-Symonds race row has turned out to be more than just about cricket. It has thrown open a huge Pandora’s box and can now be regarded as an excellent case study on a plethora of issues – culture, diplomacy, management, racism, power and capitalism.

First, let me wash off the Indian linen, so that my arguments, at no point, are not construed as biased. The entire string of the actual incidents can only be viewed through a stream of probabilities due to the lack of legally acceptable evidence.

Did Harbhajan call Symonds, a monkey? Probably yes. I think he must have; I dont think Aussies will stoop so low to frame a false case (outside the cricket field).

Do Indians use the word monkey as a racist term? No. Except for a few educated Indians, well versed with Western culture, monkey is not known to be a derogatory term in the western racist sense. Anybody, who ‘looks’ or behaves like a monkey is called a monkey. Sometimes, children and husbands are affectionately or irritantly called as monkeys. Indians will object to someone being called, say, a Pariah (remember the plight of Subramanium Swamy)  but not to monkey. Some sections of people, though not all, will take strong offense to someone being called a bastard or even a fucker (this is the first time ever I am using these words publicly in speech or writing). During school days, a gang of about 20 students, marched to the house of a friend who called another friend a bastard in Tamil (not many of us even knew the full meaning of the Tamil word then). We were all intent on complaining to his mother, who happenned to be a teacher in our primary school long back and finally gave up as the guy broke into tears and appologised profusely. The whole incident took on an ultra-sentimental angle, as the victim of the word, had lost his father at an early age.

There was another incident during college, when I was subjected to the first rites of ragging, a guy repeatedly called me fucker in Tamil (again, I was not too sure what the Tamil word meant at that time, but I knew it was something ‘vulgar’) and I was almost moved to tears. I never spoke to that guy again. Later on, after getting polished through the grind of B-school, I have grown totally immune to any kind of profanity as long as it is not directed at me.

But, again, not all Indians take offense to the same set of words. There are huge cultural discrepancies and North-South divide even within India. Hindi boasts of a wholesome vocabulary of vulgar words than a South Indian language like Tamil. Mother and sister commonly feature in profanities in North, while they are largely non-existent in South. 

So, it all boils down to saying that words do not have same connotations in all cultures, even within a country. Therefore, when Symonds was called a monkey for the first time in India, I dont believe that there were racist intentions. It was more of a harmless jabber.  But, when Symonds was called a monkey the second time in Mumbai, I think the crowd knew of the racist undertone. Symmonds made a mountain of the monkey the first time and the monkey stuck onto his back afterwards.

By denying the racist undertone in the Mumbai incident, we were setting the stage for the repeat of the incident. Which is what has happenned in Sydney, thanks to Harbhajan and not without help from Symonds himself. Having muttered the word under provocation and aware of the consequences, Harbhajan had to go into a denial mode. As long as he, himself, was denying it, the Indian team had to back him up.

Aussies could have resolved it diplomatically by bringing it up with Kumble behind closed doors and then Harbhajan may have even admitted and apologised. The Aussies chose to complain publicly. Not a crime, they definitely had the right to do it, but not a smart move either. It has set in motion a very complex game.

I am afraid that Indian crowds will latch on to this and keep doing the monkey chants everytime Symonds is in action. Such is the nature of crowd mentality. It is very unlikely that monkey will immediately become  a racist term and be used against all black players. It would just become a special word reserved for Symmonds. Over a period of time, it might evolve to be racially used against a broader set of people.

Are Indians racist? Not in a Western sense, but in many other ways, yes. We are a deeply casteist society. Caste, I believe, is a localised surrogate for race. There are deep biases ingrained in the Indian society on basis of caste. We have not got enough opportunities to become a ‘racist’ society but when we do get the opportunity we might become one because of the inherent Indian bias and reverence for fair skin.

Did BCCI do the right thing in supporting Harbhajan? Yes, they were right in supporting him, in the lack of any serious evidence against him but they were horribly wrong in the way they supported him. They had no business in taking up an aggressive posture, which was almost tantamount to blackmailing, before the judgement was spelled out. This was a clear sign of a ‘new’ rich man throwing his weight around unduly. The entire thought process behind this act that money gives them power and this power could be exercised for any cause is disgusting.

Are Aussies (and many English) justified in cribbing about the power wielded by BCCI? No. It was not long back when English and Aussies were ruling the game, they still do in many ways than is obvious. Now they are not ready to let go of the position of power to a strong challenger.

Are Aussies or Whites, in general, upholders of the fight against racism? Oh, yes, as much as Bush is the messiah against terrorism. If we think, racism is exorcised by not calling a Black as a Negro or as a monkey, we can’t be farther away from the truth. If we call all American blacks as African-Americans should we not call all whites as European-Americans? How many white countries have had a black head of state? US is close but still not there and Obama is not fully black anyway.  Can the Aussies nominate Symmonds as their captain-in-waiting, instead of Clarke? Is throwing eggs at Murali, any less a crime than monkey-chants?

Only one thing is certain. It is time that we acknowledged that humans are deeply divided across various parameters and strong biases exist all across – religion, race, colour, caste, wealth, education, gender, language and many more. It is time that we make sincere efforts to bridge these divides rather than resorting to lip service.

It is an ultimate indictment of western and human hypocrisy that one can be punished for calling someone a monkey but not for abusing his mother. Did your mother congratulate you on saving the nation’s honour, Mr. Singh?


The end of religion and of God

December 27, 2007

We have enough religions and we have had enough of religions. Doomsayers, since Nostradamus times, have been predicting the end of man. Let me, for a change, predict the end of God.

After all, what will God do without men to pray, without men to sin, without men to punish, without men to create religions and perform rituals. Without man, God cannot exist. She (let me balance my male-chauvenist repeated-usage of the word ‘man’ by attributing femininity to ‘God’ – no, it is not meant as an insult to femininity or to God; it is quite common in most non-Judaic traditions) will be bored to death fixing the fate of monkeys and mangroves.

It is disgusting to see religion cause disruption to every form of decent civilised life. Global  anti-Islam campaign masquerading as anti-terror campaign, Gujarat bloodshed given complete legitimacy by repeated electoral victories, anti-Sikh riots still remaining unresolved, Taslima Nasreen and MF Hussain on the run for offending left-wing and right-wing politicians – oh, the list is endless. Why all this tragi-comic tussle over something that doesnt exist. If God was there and if She was as sensible as religions make us believe, would She have scripted such horrendous bloodbaths in her name. Creating a Hitler and Modi and Osama and Bush would not have been my idea of fun. A sensible God could not have presided over such foolishness for centuries.  Existence of an insensible God is difficult to rationalise, even for the hardcore irrational believers.

For the rational mind, the solution for this conundrum is simple – there can be no God, sensible or insensible. The truth is simple but hard to believe and impossible to prove. The castle of lies built over millenia is so impregnable and has been unconquered. The very lie that the rational mind wants to annihilate, consumes and obsesses the mind so much that there is no escape from it for believers and non-believers both. The rational mind is also fickle – in times of adversity or death, when the fear of unknown overcomes it, it takes the escapist route and surrenders in the castle of lies. The known lie is easier to digest than the unknown truth.

Education has no correlation to with rationality. There are doctors and scientists who not only believe in God, but also submit themselves to religion, rituals and riots. Increased levels of literacy and education, as we know it, do not guarantee the end of superstition and religion. But still, I hope, with a certain sense of irrational strength of belief, that there will be a day when man will run out of patience for religion, religion will run out of its utility for mankind and Gods will cease to exist. That day, a new humanity will bloom and man will advance to the next stage of evolution.


Confessions of an atheist

November 6, 2007

An atheist confessed to me, whenever he was in a depressing situation, he wished he was not an atheist. How easy is life for the spiritually inclined…all you need to do is to leave everything to God and trust he will take care of them. But having admitted the truth to oneself – that there cant be any God, it is difficult to disbelieve that truth and leave it all to God. The atheist has to arduosly harbour the burden of his own difficulties. He knows he has to sort it out himself. There will be no divine intervention.

Oh – if only God exists! You can always believe that you will get what you deserve. You just have to be good. As if being good at heart is the end-state (why not). And trust me, it is not difficult to be good. It is much easier than what an atheist believes he needs to be to succeed (in material terms) – hard working, smart, intelligent,…,there is an endless list.

In good times, the atheist doesnt know how long it will last and he knows he has to be constantly striving hard to make it last longer. In bad times, the atheist doesnt know where to turn to. He has to continue to trust himself and his abilities to wriggle out of the bad times. The joy of good times is lost in the effort to sustain it and prolong it. The agony of bad times is compounded by the inability to turn away from it. Paradise lost can be regained. But belief lost is lost forever.

There is a certain serenity in believing in serendipidity and the atheist is forever deprived of it. No wonder man made Gods. And religions to keep the myth alive.