Thursday, April 22, 2010

The IPL and the media have put me in a fix.

The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) initiated by the World Association for Christian Communication brought together people all around the world to find out how the media covered various groups of people. In this instance it sought to find how women were covered in the media. The media has its inverted pyramid style way of looking at the world in which the rich, famous, powerful and beautiful are given maximum space. The bizarre, untoward, adventurous and unnatural are then given the next bits of space while the poor, women and children often have to fight to find a fleeting mention. The findings of the GMMP strengthened the argument that less than 20% of stories focus solely on women.

These days the English news channels in India are in frenzy over the IPL. After Tharoor and Sunanda setting the air waves on fire, the Modi fire is becoming too hot to handle. Stories of fund embezzlements, hastily patched up front companies, shady real estate deals and income tax department raids are all coming out by the minute and second. So much that the viewer who misses an hour misses myriad twists in the story. Soon we will be exposed to the private life of Lalit Modi, his extravagant life style and how he build his IPL castle. So much IPL that anything else has almost gone into oblivion. Everyone is found asking, “Did you watch the IPL match?” It sounds like I might be labelled unnatural if I don’t watch the IPL and hope for an IPL team for my state.

The frenzy over the IPL is so much that everyone in one way or the other is involved with it. Some by going to the stadiums, some by watching matches on T.V., few by supporting Tharoor, and others by following the IPL related news. The IPL is stirring the imagination of the media audience. But it also shows that the IPL has changed cricket in India and it has used the media to this effect. It has changed cricket which had ‘use value’ to cricket which now has ‘exchange value’. This is why the IPL is gobbling up all that print space and invading the air waves. The exchange has been made! We the audience have thus been ‘commodified’ and given a price tag. The critique of religion as the opium for the masses has now undergone a change to IPL as the opium for the masses.

It is this that the poor, the helpless women and the powerless children of this country don’t have: ‘exchange value.’ They have use value but that is not enough for the main stream media and for us. We therefore neglect them by not speaking about them, not writing about them and not reading about them. They don’t give us the ‘fix’ we need. That is provided by the cheer leaders, bright lights, colour and entertainment. As a country we are living in a fix. We expect religion, movies and sports to be our opium. Therefore the politicians, religious leaders, earning middle and upper middle class, business community and different media are all responsible for the IPL dirty linen that is now being washed in public. I don’t know whether we will be able to come out of this perpetual fix! Maybe we don’t want to?

Monday, April 19, 2010

IPL: The Indian Phony League

The history of every country is measured by what it has attained as a people in terms of something. This something is different in varying situations. India is no different from others. We have non-violence and ahimsa as a measuring stick to observe what we have attained. Then we have violence and protest to attain equal grounds to play in a level playing field. A third form is the middle path which uses both of the above. Now India is experiencing the fourth wave. This is crude greed for wealth and power through any and all means. This fourth wave is the IPL (Indian Premier League). While we lowly ones sit on the edge of our seats watching minnows beating the giants and excitement in every ball and second, matches are fixed and money is exchanged under the table.

The IPL has claimed its first major casualty in the form of Shashi Tharoor, the by now former minister of state of the Ministry of External Affairs in India. It is reported that the former minister’s alleged friend Ms. Sunanda Pushkar was helped by him to get an equity worth 70 crore rupees in the newly formed Kochi IPL team. Tharoor has maintained all along that he has not done anything wrong and that Ms. Pushkar is a professional who has been given a stake as part of the services she will offer to the Kochi IPL team over a period of ten years.

The media went all out to get pictures and stories of the couple. Ms. Pushkar came out with a statement that the media did not have the right to harass her like this and the stake (sweat money) that she was offered was taking into account the services she had to offer as a professional. But who cared? Sunanda has been placed by the media in the middle of Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor, as if to suggest that the two are fighting over her. One almost got the idea of Ms. Sunanda being portrayed by the media as a pin up cheer leader who was cheering for a high profile minister who was trying his best to get an IPL team for his home state Kerala. Sunanda has been treated with disrespect in a fight between two men who think the IPL is the bench mark in India.

Shashi Tharoor need not bring in the Kerala factor and the importance of what he was trying to do by bringing such a team to Kerala. In his first interview after winning the Trivandrum Lok Sabha seat he said that his priority was to his voters and not being a minister in the government. The people of Kerala do not benefit by getting an IPL team. Their needs are rather cheap drinking water, electricity, jobs and roads, just to name a few. By thinking that the IPL is more important he has betrayed the trust of the people in him. All is not lost yet though as he can use his resignation as a time to get back to what matters. Twiterring is good but only when it is matched with work at the grass roots!

The Indian Premier League is a blow below the belt to the Indian Poverty League. What does it benefit the ordinary people of India when companies can invest in a sport and make money out of it? Why should our children pay exorbitant amounts of money to sit on a seat and watch a game when they should have free public parks and grounds to run without reservations and break free? Why should I support Chennai and curse Bangalore and Calcutta when I love all three? Will cheer girls, music and booze eradicate poverty in my country? I feel sorry for Sunanda because she has got a hard deal from the media. I feel sorry for Shashi because he has got carried away with he, him and himself. I feel sorry for Lalit because he has stamped on himself by stamping on the poor of this country.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Understanding the cry and joy of nature: The power of backward thinking

Yesterday I was a fortunate person with nature filled care
Yesterday I was lulled by the wind and caressed by the rain
Yesterday I dreamt of a life, of happiness, love and joy
Yesterday I had everything…today I have memories of yesterday

There can be no development without destruction. This is the truth we are faced with. As we build our joy in the form of buildings and structures, we seldom realise that we trample upon the lives and the joy of others. We construct our happiness by bringing others to tears. Based on our theme, we bring nature to tears as we jump with joy with our additions of steel and cement.

The cry and joy of nature
India has been ravaged and defiled in the quest for money and power. A complete misreading of the voice of Isaiah has taken place. If Isaiah meant his prophecy that ‘the valleys will be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low’ to prepare the way of the Lord, it is questionable whether the hill killing and valley filling now has anything to do with this. Rather the natural is being made unnatural and the right wrong. The lure of high real estate prices and the greed of making quick money have led to digging out our history and building new histories today.

We have to make sense of the cry and joy of nature with this. The oppressed people in different parts of the world are usually wiped out by challenging, attacking and destroying their history and memories. The same happens with nature. We question nature’s existence by challenging its role, attacking its existence and destroying its glorious past. With no memory left, nature itself becomes a reconstructed notion of what is in front of us. Therefore, the unnatural becomes the norm of the natural.

Reversing the trend
But what can we do when we are being sucked into a culture of forced forgetfulness? If nature is crying, it is to keep us happy! Can we pull back? We should be able to as otherwise we will be faced with total destruction. To undertake this we have to scratch out bits and pieces of our history and learn from the knowledge of our ancestors. This calls for a total slowdown and going backwards. It is funny considering the fact that governments of the world have over the past year and a half, tried to infuse the world economy with one stimulus package after the other to fight the self induced recession.

The power of backward thinking
Thinking backwards in our culture is also seen as thinking negatively and so not apt. The world is going fast and so one either keeps pace or drops behind. But our scriptures and religious traditions also talk of a slowing down and of a going backwards. One would say that this is preposterous. In a way anyone who is firmly placed in the present culture of growth, stimulation and progress would find this totally untoward and unacceptable.

Wray Herbert points out an interesting thought of backward thinking. He refers to an experiment which asks some people to walk towards the front and others backwards. Finally they are asked to identify certain colours against their names. The people who walked backwards perform better in the test. This may be because they were able to identify with their past and bring out their primal instincts. We have the over assuming habit of seeing our ancestors as backward and primitive. But these are the very people who lived in harmony with nature and had simple but effective solutions for sustainable living. Their way of life was at an optimum speed and had an approach of caring for the coming generations, unlike our attitude to life.

Learning from primal communities
Our lives often revolve around what we can teach others and seldom around what we can learn from others. What we fail to understand is that nature precedes us and so do certain communities of people like the adivasis and tribals. They are the primal people of this land and it is they who have always lived with nature, taking what it offered and never snatching what was not theirs.

P.V. Rajagopal relives his experience of working with adivasis in India. Once he gave a talk on the nirdoom choola, a smokeless cooking system. A woman present tells him that she already knows about this. He questions her maintaining that this is a new system and it is impossible for her to know about it. She asks him, “How does smoke come?” He replies saying that smoke comes when we cook something over a fire. She tells him, “For us smoke does not come because we never cook anything as such. Everything is had just as it is.” This is the wisdom of primal people. They are the pioneers of environmental justice and sustainable living. And yet we call them illiterates and backward people! What a travesty of events!

Re-inventing traditional concepts of the church for the new generation
We have to look at traditional celebrations, festivals and lents and re-invent them in the line of the concept of the cry and joy of nature. The amount of fire crackers used can be reduced and car and bike rallies can be made into walks by the people. Church buildings can make use of solar, wind and other renewable energy forms and even work towards reducing their carbon foot print. The lenten season can be used as a time to slow down and switch off by which we slow down and also reduce our energy consumption and become more compassionate towards nature. The people and the clergy can concentrate on things like this to prepare themselves during lent instead of just following a few diet restrictions.

Conclusion: Making memories come alive
The picture is crystal clear. We have memories of the joy of nature. But if these remain as memories, they will be replaced by the cry of nature. It is nature’s legitimate right to cry if we continue our aggressive development policies and heartless war against what is natural. Just as the joy is a celebration, the cry will be an instant gloom. We are already seeing signs of it through nature’s way of protest. Temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting and rains are washing us away. Maybe it is time to stop looking ahead and start looking back. It is a time to bring back our memories of the good times and learn from communities which we have pushed behind. This is the call of Isaiah. Things have to change. For the better hopefully!

(This blog post was published in Gurukul Jyothi 2010, the college magazine of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai)