Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Some thoughts on Death Penalty for Rape

As always, Twitter has been having a heated debate on why the death penalty should and should not be awarded to rapists/rapist-murderers. All the while, opponents of death penalty have been harping on a single point - that awarding the death penalty would not be a major deterrent, if at all, in preventing rapes and that it would only serve to increase rape-deaths, i.e. murdering a rape victim after the rape to wipe out proof. Fair enough.

As far as my opinion on the Death Penalty goes, I would say I am somewhere between right of centre and centre of right (assuming far right means strong approval of death penalty). Now that we have got that out of our way, next question - why not death for rapists?

India has, since time immemorial, been a country where women have accorded their chastity a higher position than their life itself. Now this concept of "chastity" might have become a very subjective term these days, what with all kinds of women laying claim to it, indeed, interpreting it to one's own convenience/understanding. I will not go into the details of this and, like religion Hinduism itself, I will let it remain a "to each his own" issue.

Coming back to our topic, I am not even sure that chastity is an issue when it comes to rapes and even if it is, how much. Nevertheless, whether or not chastity is an issue, a woman has every right in the world to oppose someone trying to indulge in sexual activities with her. Heck, even saying this statement makes me feel terribly dumb - I mean, it's almost like "We as human beings have every right to not wake up in the morning at 8 AM".

My point on chastity was simply to drive in the point that ours is has been a culture that terribly values it and how, in the days gone by, women have preferred to put an end to their life rather than live life after having lost it. I reiterate that I am unaware of the extent of the prevalence of this philosophy today.

So then why not death penalty to rapists? Take this most recent and ultra-hyped gang rape of the Delhi girl in a bus. I wouldn't want to go into the gory details - but suffice to say that it is more macabre than anything you could imagine as being part of a city's (let alone capital of a country) day-to-day existence. What else can you think of but the death penalty for such elements? They dont deserve to be part of even a jail society. You see, in such cases, I care lesser about whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent for rapes and more about simply the fact that THESE INHUMAN BEINGS DONT DESERVE TO LIVE. If you have a death penalty in your law and you use it for the rarest of rare crimes (which typically includes some kind of killing), rapists need to be hanged.

Bhoomi Devi would be better off not having to bear the burden of such souls.

I am not particularly a "humanist" (assuming that means someone in love with humanity). I would like to think I view life, that too of human beings, as something as common and as special as anything else nature has offered to us. Human life isn't a big deal. I obviously care for lives of my loved ones, mine and of course, life of good people and innocents. But beyond that, at least at this point of time, I dont think the human life is a particularly valuable asset for the world. If you live, there must be a premium to it. The least you can do is to not cause immense damage to other leaving creatures (partial damage. though not acceptable, is tolerable).

More than the actual act of the rape, I believe the thought process behind it deserves the severest of punishments. The attitude which makes you view women as a mere object meant for your gratification, bereft of the most basic of respects to be accorded as a fellow human being. Under the influence of alcohol or not, I'd be less worried if I knew there was one less psycopath on the prowl for the women...of my city, my state, my country or simply, the world, to face.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Contractors in TamBrahm Weddings

Having been a regular "attender" of TamBrahm weddings in Chennai for the past 2 years and having been an integral part of at least 3, there are a lot of interesting things I have got to observe. Chief among the observations, especially those that I badly want to express is the concept of "Contractors".

Marriage Contractors Sham
One of the most farcical-like real-life businesses/occupations I have felt strongly about till now was the Soft Skills coaching industry. Now, there's an addition to this list - and that's the whole business of marriage "contracts". What started off as an innocuous enough marriage catering has now blown into a full-blown mini-industry thanks chiefly to NRI-fed overflowing TamBrahm purses. Typically, the "contractors" take care of the following aspects of a wedding -
  1. Food (obviously)
  2. Flowers -
  3. Welcoming/reception committee for invitees
  4. Welcoming you to the mandapam and sending you (i.e. the bride/groom families) off
  5. Kattu-saadha koodai
  6. Decorations (sometimes)

It is obvious that apart from 1, none of the others are indispensable. Now we will analyze the major irritants one-by-one -
3. Welcoming/reception committee for invitees
    IMHO the top most-irritating-thing-about marriage "contracts". Bunches of totally random strangers (mostly non-Brahmin at that) welcoming your family, friends and other invitees with plastic smiles on their faces and boredom on their minds. Dont get me wrong about the non-Brahmin part, but in a function that is supposed to be Brahmin, having strangers moving around being part of the set-up is very out-of-place. This obviously isn't applicable to non-Brahmin friends/family members - I've been part of TamBrahm weddings where non-Brahmin friends played an integral part, but it's just that their relationship with the family adds a touch of familiarity to the set-up (which IMO is one of the essences of weddings - congregation of friends and relatives). I would be equally irritated with Brahmin strangers, but for the minor consolation that they might "appear" Brahmin, which, anyway is another farce, but that's for another day.
4. Welcoming you to the mandapam and sending you (i.e. the bride/groom families) off -
    Typical welcome involves crackers and stuff - adding grandeur to the whole event. And while sending you off, nothing major again - food items all packed, some extra-fittings here and there. Then when the groom's family arrives, making random folks from the "penn" aathu side garland random folks from the payyan aathu side, give coconuts, etc. Ewwww.
5. Kattu-saadha koodai - This should normally be included as part of "Food" itself, somehow these guys have packaged the contract in such a way that this comes extra - add to it all the packing, gift-based ideas these days where families give something as a gift. Another needless addition to the "contract".
Illave Illaadha Saastram-Sampradhaayam - To me, the other major irritant with "contracts" is the addition of needless saastram-sampradaayam. In an era when the Saastrams specified by Vaadhyaars itself are doubtable, what these guys add is even more gas.
6. Extra fittings - One classic example of this is the velvet Maharaja-type invitation scroll that is read out during the Engagement.
1. Food - Yabba, mudiyala. These "contract" guys will threaten, beg, plead, force you to eat. Their logic is that because this is a "contract", forcing you to eat is part of the contractual obligations. This problem amplifies if they somehow figure out that you are close to the bride/groom. So much so that at least 2 people will station themselves next to you and ask you every 45 seconds if you need something (I'm serious - this happened in my cousin's marriage just yesterday). Even if you are not a close relative, they will anyway force you to eat stuff. That's their idea of hospitality.

I'll end my rant there though I can go on. Effectively, to me - the value addition brought in by marriage "contractors" is minimal at best. It's more like - they just add some glitz to the festivities - a lot of which can be added by ourselves, just because it is a contract. "Kudutha kaasukku koovanum" appears to be the standard refrain here. Simply because the money that you give for the "contract" part of it (that is, total money minus money for the food) is just wasteful expenditure and these guys TRY to do stuff to justify the cost.

I'm not saying all marriages should be simple, modest occasions...by no means. However, a lot of this can be separately arranged for better value and quality. But then again, all our NRI peepuls have money to splurge and why blame them - the parents hardly need worry about the minor necessary extra-fittings needed (basically stuff like flowers and ... umm...whatever...) so they just entrust this to the contractors.

Prediction - Marriage "contracts" will expand to a major industry in the next few years with a typical contract involving one or more of the following -
1. Marriage registration.
2. First-night tie-up with a posh hotel in the city.
3. Honeymoon packages.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Best Friends' Wedding(s)

I'm not exactly the sort who gets sentimental in blogs and shares super-personal stuff here. Still, exceptions have to be made and like they say, there's always a first time in life.

My imagination is usually pretty fertile and for a few years now, me and my best buds (though tempted to give the number, which would be a sure giveaway, with much difficulty, I hold back) have been discussing possible scenarios - maritally speaking, for each/all of us - ororthankukku epdi patta ponnu varuvaa, kalayanathukku apparam ororuthanum epdi maruvaan, etc. Though it had been part of my thought process to be the last one to get hooked (you know, a kind of pseudo-feel-good thingy - as if I was karai-ethifying them before I settled down...), I had never envisioned a situation where "they" would be hooked at about the same time, leaving me in the lurch. It was always like - first, one would fall, then the rest of us would derive sadistic pleasure in seeing "the wall" crumble, alasify the fall like Kumudham, then the next guy would fall...and so on...till finally...ahem, I bit the bullet.

And so, it was really a bolt out of the blue when this happened. Within a short span of about 3 months, all of them are somewhere between going-to-be-engaged and going-to-be-married. I'd be lying if I said concerns of "solo" singularity (yes there is something like that) was NOT a concern, it obviously is, but is minimal at best. The more pressing concern, of course, is what would be going through my parents' minds - seeing their son's closest circle all having fallen like nine pins.

But this post is not really about either. It's about the impending "loss of control", for want of a better phrase. It's probably a very me-specific phenomenon, maybe not, but in all (or at least a lot of) friendships, there tends to be the more expressive, louder, more imposing person who thrusts his or her thoughts & opinions on the other(s). In my case, I'm that guy. I have always exercised this "control" over them. I have felt a sense of ownership. None of them are similar to me in most aspects - there's one that comes closest to me in most things and yet, a third person would hardly think there are similarities between the two of us. Hence, despite all claims of "control", "ownership", etc, they are very much their own men (yes, they're all guys...except one...) - I will not be able to make them do something that they don't want to, nor would I be able to convince them to accept my point of view if they aren't strongly convinced about it.
Yet, that feeling of ownership is there. Heck, it's almost 10 years now and it seems to me that I have always had this feeling about them.

And now that feeling is about to go. For all practical purposes, there is probably going to be hardly any change in our relationships per se, I have a very decent working relationship with one of the to-be-spouses already and don't expect to have major troubles with the others too. And communication-wise too, I think we will be able to maintain our existing level of communication. Still, there is that zing that is about to leave me. All said and done, when the "she" of each of their lives comes, it is inevitable that theirs is the partnership that is going to be acknowledged and practised on a daily basis. None of them is going to become any less communicative with me, sure, but human psychology works in strange ways. It isn't that they have been talking to me on a daily basis all these days - but these days, even if they don't talk to me for a day, my mind immediately starts thinking - "Cha, *avo* vandhadhu lerndhu naai romba maarittaan. Inime ippadi thaan." *sniff* And then I whack my head and tell myself - "Hold it, they haven't particularly reduced talking to me, have they? And really, what's wrong if they spend more time with their to-be-spouses?" Possessiveness is a good way to describe what I have, though not all-encompassing.

Yeah yeah, I know what you're all thinking - that this rant is mainly thanks to my continued singularity. Not that this isn't a factor - the rant - sure thing, but for what I have expressed in the rant - pretty sure my singularity isn't.

There is this already-existent-but-invisible bond that exists between single guys. So when you consider single guy best friends, the bonding is obviously going to be that much more. And when that "single" factor goes away, happy occasion though it might be, "ennamo aedho..." happens.

Sigh. Much as I am sad about this newly introduced hold-back factor, must admit that I have succeeded in karai-ethifying my friends. (Fail aanadhukku bit'tu.)

And I wonder, innum evlo naalukku dhaan ippadi bitt'a pottu oora emaathardhu.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On the need to radically modify the ritualistic part of TamBrahm weddings

We have now reached an inflexion-point-of-sorts in the evolution of TamBrahm'ness. A sad observation in almost all of the marriages I've been to so far is the commercialization of priesthood (which is known by all). But the other less-identified-but-more-relevant reality is the relevance of the "Brahmin"ness itself and the involvement of the stakeholders themselves in the festivities and rituals.
Simply put, there has come to be this vulgar obsession about the TamBrahm style of wedding.
The mantras, rituals, homams, etc have become commodities that add "traditional" grandeur to the event - spectacles. What kind of life the bride/groom has been leading *up to* the wedding and what kind of life they will lead *after* - both have become inconsequential. In many cases, the groom wears a Poonal a day before the Muhurtam, just to chant the mantras and perform the rituals.
I am less concerned about the mere survival of TamBrahminism than its blatant exploitation for cheap thrills these days. Simply because they have the capacity to acquire them, people these days indulge in this kind of sad show-off.
Why rape the same woman day in and day out, treat her like a slut 90% of the time and on the occasional day, deck her up like a chaste Goddess and parade her in public so *your* vanity is satisfied?
I will lay the blame chiefly on parents than children. I have no issues with youngsters of these days not adhering to the Brahminical way of life. My problem lies with the parents who, irrespective of their children's interest/desire, thrust the rituals and TamBrahm-marriage-related paraphernelia on their kids.
A comment by the bride in one of the weddings I was closely associated with - "Yabba, indha 'sitthu' (i.e. metti) + thaali erichal thaangala. First thing I'll do after I board the flight is remove them all." It is another fact that her mom used the Thaali as a decorative item in her wardrobe for most of the days.
"Meaning" is is simply absent.
One downright farcical event at another of the weddings was this - a fight between the bride's side and groom's side a few hours before the Muhurtam because someone from the bride's side went into the room in which the homam/ritual-related things were kept without being clad in madusaar. It would've been downright funny if it weren't potentially marriage-threatening. I obviously was more concerned that day, but looking back, it's funny. Both the bride and groom of that marriage are as far away from "Brahminhood" as one can imagine - high-level thanni-parties living in the US, eating out most of the time, taking bath occasionally (this is obviously about the guy), etc.
Inter-Caste Marriages
Out of the marriages I have attended, roughly 60% were intra-caste marriages. The remaining 40% ranged from Brahmin-non-Brahmin to Iyer-Iyengar to Iyer-Madhwa.
Vaadhyaar mamas have now readymade solutions for all kinds of marriages. According to them, anything and everything has an associated workaround. And why wouldn't they? They might earn less than marriage "contractors" but their profitability is easily more. Typically, a Brahmin-non-Brahmin marriage is simpler, since most non-Brahmins (at least in the cases I observed) are also awed by the grandeur of Brahmin marriages and choose to adopt a purely-Brahmin marriage. However, things get a little tricky in the case of Brahmin-Brahmin inter-caste marriages. Especially when each side considers itself to be even somewhat Brahminical and has its own set of Vaadhyaars. Luck is on your side if the Vaadhyaars are part of a clique - they will be able to seamlessly arrive at a weighted mean after factoring in the specialist rituals from both sides. Otherwise you are in for an amusing spectacle - the sight of the two sides making snide remarks at each other, pulling each other's legs, expressing each's superiority in as unsubtle a manner as possible.
One can only wonder what the effectiveness of the Mantras, Homams and all will be in such cases.
The poonal has been reduced to a dispensable commodity that plays a Daftary role in TamBrahm weddings. Special Muhurta pottus are available since most girls these days are allergic to Kungumam.

If you are someone like me - i.e. placed just slightly inside the "Brahminical" side of the thin red line (as opposed to being a very informed "correctly" practising Brahmin), the whole spectacle is amusing as well as sad.

This is where I have pinned my hopes on the supposedly objective and liberal generation of today - the kind who are more influenced by a self(read Brahmin)-hating, uber-cynical pop-icon KrishAshok-type than a religious guru who prescribes the do's and dont's for a Brahmin, in today's day and age. I really hope that they will not subject their kids to the kind of sham that their parents subjected them to - poonal, panja-kachcham, madusaar and what not.

An earnest request to parents - there is a simpler alternative available - there is apparently this "Arya Samaj" kind of wedding that has the usual share of religious incantations and stuff, but does not require one to be a Brahmin to do it. This is simpler, cheaper and is more conducive to the kind of life most people lead these days. Mainly - it is more meaningful. Please note that I am not demeaning the Arya Samaj marriage in any way. What I'm trying to say is that this is perhaps more in tune with today's way of life than the traditional TamBrahm marriage that Brahmins do.

PS: This appeal obviously doesnt apply to the mamas who down 3 pegs of Teacher's on the night of Day 0, chant "Mamo paatha samastha durithakshayadvaara..." in the vratham on the morning of Day 1 and do Kanya daanam on the morn of Day 2. You'll, in all probability, not get what I'm talking about.

Expected Questions -
  • "Who are you to decide whether someone follows and if they do, how well they follow 'Brahminism'?"
    Being a fellow-Brahmin, I am a stakeholder in the whole scheme of things. What I am expressing here are, needless to say, my opinions. I do not claim that they are right or that I am the sole protector of "Brahminism" - only that I wish a bit more respect is given to this culture (so to speak) called Brahminism, in the interest of our ancestors and Sanatana Dharma, as I understand it (however trivial it might appear).
  • "What is wrong in practising Brahminism while, at the same time, doing supposedly non-Brahmin activities like drinking, etc?"
    Again, valid point. There are basically 2 approaches to this issue - one, by expanding the already-broad contours of contemporary Brahminism and two, by retaining the existing "delimitations" [:P] and coming up with an alternative exclusivist approach. What I am doing here is the latter. Why - because I sincerely feel "accepting" and being more inclusivist will only serve to destroy the culture in the long-term, in case it isn't on the verge of being irrelevant already.
  • "Why at all should Brahminism, as you define it, survive?"
    No idea. I am assuming here, based on its existence all these aeons and looking at its role in shaping Sanatana Dharma, that there is some purpose to it. Based on this assumption, I think it should survive. It may very well also be that it doesn't need to survive at all.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gautham Menon - The Kamal Hassan of Tamil Film Direction

I would badly like to pass off a generalization like "Tamil cinema is probably the film industry with the highest ratio of pretentious-scumbags-to-genuinely-talented film personalities in the world", however, such a gross generalization would likely divert the attention from the subject of my post. Hence, despite temptation, I would like to refrain from making the previous statement.

What would you get if you had a director with reasonable talent, some creativity, a little gumption, a lot of luck and oodles of arrogance mistakenly self-assumed as chutzpah? You'd get Gautham Vasudev Menon.

I only recently realized that he happens to be the director of two of the movies I hate most - Vaaranam Aayiram & Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu. However, on seeing the movies, I usually cringe at Surya's nails-scratching-blackboard-level dialogues+delivery (in the former) and Kamal's laughably funny demeanour (in the latter). Funnily enough, the direction of GVM never struck me during my repeated irritations during watchings of either movie. And to think I really have/had him as one of the Tamil directors to watch out for, every time his movie releases. Coming to think of it, there's exactly one GVM movie that I adore - and that movie remains one of my all-time favourite Tamil movies - Minnale. Oh wait, there's also Kaakha Kaakha, but following that up immediately with the utterly unpalatable Vettiyaadu..., that too with a very similar storyline, having Iyengar mama deliver macho lines more-or-less wiped out all lovely memories of Kaakha...

The main problem with GVM is his ultra-hyper wannabeness. Wannabeness oozes from every pore of his movies. Minnale & Kaakha Kaakha somehow escaped this. The thing with people who are talented, but with limited doses at that is - by the first few opportunities, they have somehow exhausted their talent. And they have impressed people somehow so much that two things happen - one-people immediately have semma expectations and two-people conclude this guy is awesome and anything he does subsequently is interpreted as awesome.
This is pretty much the case with Gautham Menon.

There is also a certain pure rawness in one's first few works that subsequently cannot even be dreamt of. Take Roja, for instance. (Rahman, however, is blessed with much much more talent than GVM of course). Minnale & KK are classic examples. There was this rawness to Minnale that made it endearing. Yes, Maddy's remonstrations were definitely nowhere as brilliant as Alaipayuthey, but they did justice to the setting. KK had its rawness in the sophistication of both Surya's & Jo's characters. However I guess GVM made the mistake of pulling out his best too soon.

So at the end of two movies, GVM became this "next big thing after Maniratnam". Cock a doodle doo. And bang - his subsequent movies began to have this air of an experienced campaigner aware of his awesomeness. In GVM's case, considering he was from *this* generation, that experience of an old hand had to be supplemented with coolness. Only, it was wannabeness at its pristine best.
"Raghavan Instinct", "Un****ing believable", to name two outstanding examples. Though there are good chances that the former was courtesy our dear Iyengar rationalist mama himself, however, Gautham Menon's pretentiousness tilts the probability of him being the genius behind this in his favour. Surya's entire dialogue from Vaaranam Aayiram I'd add, but that deserves a whole post on itself.

This wannabeness has a lot of Kamal in it. In Kamal's case, however, he's been around for so long and has peddled his intellectuality enough (in different forms) to at least sow the seeds of doubt in you (doubt that, oru velai, thappi thavari, ivar nejamaave intellectual'a iruppaaro'nu).
Fortunately also, Kamal has loads more talent and has enough success to show (i.e. Success minus pretentiousness). As also from time to time, forcing you to wonder if you were being too harsh on him.
This Gautham Menon guy - no.

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Open Letter to a friend

Dear friend,
Over the past 1.5 years or so, you have acted like a wave. You come close to the shore and just when one would think you're coming in, you go right back. Kind of like that epic scene in Anbe Sivam - "Chennaiya thaakkoon, Chennaiya thaakkoon apdeenu solluvaanga, aana varusha varusham Orissa'va thaandi Andhra varikkum vandhuttu apdiye thirumbi poidum."
I can remember at least 3 instances during the same period when you have permuted the words - "open mind", "accept", "unbiased point of view", "listened to both sides", etc but would end up at the same conclusion - that of Namo's purported guilt. Then you would tweet the occasional 2-3 articles about development in Gujarat riding with a [standard] disclaimer/question wondering if it was exaggerated. Then the same tone of "all this is ok...but...".

Much as I have respect for you and your rationality, I must say that when it comes to Namo, your sense of objectivity seems to be minimal at best. I can see you trying hard to take off those blinkers and view him in different light (and I credit you for that), but there seems to be some part of you that is absolutely preventing you from doing it.

All this while, I hoped/assumed all you were waiting for was the court's judgement on the issue. However, despite an overwhelming clean chit to him, your stance has barely shifted. If any, it (viewing him guilty) just seems to have strengthened.

I also hope you are cognizant of the fact that I have not once brought up any of the other riots or even mentioned "1984", even in passing.
The riots were ABSOLUTELY unjustified, there is no second question about it. Could Modi have handled the riots better - maybe, maybe not. But I think we do not have the authority to decide that. NGO's might, and I too thought they were authentic & exposed the actual situation until Teesta Setalvad came into the picture. I think it has been proved beyond doubt that she is funded, in part or whole, by vested interests with the chief aim of maligning Narendra Modi. The actual aim of "Justice for the victims" was just a bystander in her pick-up truck which has long passed its actual destination and route.

This being the case, I think it would be best to rely on the court's verdict, especially considering the SIT for the main case (Gulberg Society) was headed by an extremely competent man of impeccable integrity (RK Raghavan).

You also try to judge NaMo based on how he would've handled riots. How many people do you *know* / have *proven* they can handle riots better than him? God forbid such a situation ever arise, but in a nation that is both tolerant as well as easily inflamed, have you ever thought how much worse the riots could've been if not for whatever control was brought about? Once again, I am not claiming that the riots that happened were a best-case scenario or even an acceptable-case scenario, but how could you so overwhelmingly confidently pronounce him guilty and start finding loopholes in the Indian Penal Code which assumes a man innocent till proven guilty?

I also see you bandying about words like "did he do ALL he could", "did he WANT the riots to happen", "did he ALLOW the riots to happen" - I hope you realize the extent to which you have brought in subjectivity here, as also uncertainty and intangibility to the bigger picture. Is it possible to get into his head and ascertain the truth? And certainly, you will have no strong answers to those questions - even if there are, you would be just as justified negating the naysayers as you can the yeasayers. Why - you know very well.

To conclude, I think the best thing for us is to, like all pointless-but-polite arguments, "agree to disagree" on Namo. You are strongly opinionated that Namo is guilty and nothing he does will ever convince you otherwise. Not a clean chit from any court. Not cogent arguments from rational, well-informed folks about his effort. Not gentle proddings from friends. Not passionate arguments from fellow twitterati. Heck, I doubt if even Teesta Setalvad can convince you otherwise (just kidding). :D

It's ok man, you have an opinion, live with it. Accept it. I have mine. I'm okay with it. In fact, I'm perfectly fine with yours too (though I must confess that it did break my heart a lot initially - my failure at coaxing you into Namo :P).

I've tried hard and long to weigh Namo on various scales. I ended up backing Narendra Modi. You ended up not. One of us is wrong. Maybe not. Time will tell. Maybe not. Until then, the best thing you could possibly do is stop trying hard to be "fair", "objective", "unbiased", etc. I know we all have heads, but we are not coins. You've tried hard enough. God (if you believe in One) will give you full marks for trying.