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Seeking a few opinions

I'm reading Stephen Ambrose's The men who built the Transcontinental Railroad. A few pages in, I came across this:

"It could not have been done without the workers. Whether they came from Ireland or China or Germany or England or Central America or Africa or elsewhere, they were all Americans."

Now, my question is: should I continue reading this book? The rest of what I've read also has a similar tone. There is something about patriotism in history books that scares me. I do not expect objectivity from people who pander to nationalistic sentiments.

dubaiwalla and I were having this conversation other day about homophobia. I'd like to ask you all a few questions, especially the queer people reading this:

1) Do you, when you first come across a person, assume them to be heterosexual? D said this was a pretty valid assumption, since most people *are* het ( Edit: Of course, like me, he sees no reason to make any assumptions in the first place)

2) Do you think it's homophobic to *assume* that a person is het? I do, but I think it's the mildest, most innocent form of residual homophobia. But I think it's homophobia nonetheless. Edit: After arguing with rparvaaz over this, I think now that it isn't homophobic, but is usually the result of the residue of a once-homophobic-frame-of-mind. That is to say, a habit acquired when one *was* homophobic. "Residual homophobia", if you will.

(This reminds me of some science fiction I wrote, set in a future where it was customary to ask people if they liked boys or girls)

I'm Piggy. Who are you?

Samosas and catching up with a friend yesterday. We walk around in a park afterward, to work off the calories. While we reminisce about old friends and he offers me exaggerated and half-true stories about how he used to kick the class bully's ass, a kid finds that my inconveniently large self has gotten in his way, and decides to try his best to push me away. He obviously enjoys the effort, the examination of physical strength, the show of aggression. We laughed it off then, friend and I, because we are grown up enough to find kids cute. But it set me thinking - I've never been the kind that commands authority.

Perhaps it sounds a little ridiculous that a kid trying to push me out of his way should lead to self-esteem issues, but the truth is, I've always had these self-esteem issues. I've never liked how incapable I am of commanding respect, and I especially hate how I cannot get kids to respect me. It's a harder problem to deal with kids - you can't ignore them, you can't expect even a minimum amount of maturity from them, and you certainly can't beat them up. It's one of the reasons I do not want this whole career-marriage-children deal for myself. It's not me. I could never raise kids right.

But this isn't just about kids. Let me explain.

I woke up this morning from a surprisingly coherent dream (or rather, I should say, that I was surprisingly coherent *in* the dream). I was with an interview panel who wanted to know what my opinion was about student leaders in college. I said something like this:

"My opinion on this issue is as follows: while one may be tempted to pick a candidate for a formal leadership post on the basis of academic achievement or perceived intelligence, these are not necessarily the leaders that students will naturally respond to. Leaders emerge naturally among students, people who naturally dominate others...."

At this point I woke up, and immediately began to think about William Golding's Lord of the Flies. I read the book about a couple of months back, and my copy was seemingly intended for schoolchildren (and if that were the case, wouldn't it be like telling people in POW camps stories about other people in POW camps?). Anyway, the edition actually had chapter summaries at the end, and one of them blabbered with familiar and schoolteacher-ish eloquence about how Golding was attempting to demonstrate that some kind of order and leadership was necessary to civilization.

Rubbish, I thought. IMHO, what Golding attempted to demonstrate was leadership emerges not through ability or intelligence, but through sheer aggression and dominance. Some people have naturally dominant personalities, and others have naturally submissive personalities (or perhaps, in the light what foot_notes has to say, some people develop dominant personalities at an early age, while others fail to). Those with dominant personalities rarely know what is best for the group. And those who know what is best for the group are rarely taken seriously. A bunch of schoolboys without adult authority demonstrates this best, but these lessons also hold true for adults in general.

(Of course, I do not hold that those who are not aggressive know what is best for the group, or that there is some kind of connection between competence and aggression. Rather, I believe good sense and aggression are independent, and although not mutually exclusive, are rarely found together in the same person. On the other hand, stupidity and submissiveness might be found much more easily in the same person - it is simply the case that both stupidity and submissiveness are far more common than their opposites)

When reading the book, I decided that I was most like Piggy. OK, I wasn't the brightest in school, but I was like that in college. Among the smartest but least popular kids in class. No one took me seriously, perhaps because I was too regular to class. But I learned in college that the game of bullying and alpha male monkeys does not end with school. In college, things are more subtle. People assert themselves by making seemingly friendly but aggressive jokes. Groups form naturally, and leaders emerge with a disgusting inevitability.

I think what Golding sought to demonstrate was that ultimately, the human species is incapable of governing itself. It is because we rarely choose the most sensible leaders. Instead we choose leaders with charisma, aggression and an innate talent to mobilise others. Sometimes, these leaders actually have a great deal of sense in them, and we get lucky. But more often than not, we choose the wrong leaders.

I don't know what made me post this not-so-insightful piece now. I guess I was bored. Also, I've been wondering to what extent democracy (or indeed, economics) can dilute this human tendency.

And this is how it ended....

So, right. We'd lost our way and decided to go with the flow (it was more complicated than that, but I'll spare you the details).

First up, Chidambaram. I noticed here something I also noticed in Madurai and Rameswaram - small South Indian temple towns can be surprisingly political.

The DMK dynasty was everywhere.

And look what the Tamilians did to poor Che

dubaiwalla  , I promise a surprise for you under the cut. Although not immediately.

I must really visit Chennai again. Soon.

Con Cons Side Consider Considers Rat Rats Ration Rations Ion Ions Rate Rates Tin Ton Tons Tar Tear Tears Star Sear Sea Seat Son Sat Cot Cots Cat Cats Cart Carts Nod Nods Node Nodes Rod Rods Rode Tad Not Are Eat Eats Tea Teas Ate Cider Date Dates Neat Diet Diets Dear Soon Noose Sooner Dare Dares Care Cares Nerd Nerds Dine Dines Rend Send End Ends Nine Nice Dire Air Airs Era Eras Art Arts Dart Darts Bard Bards Note Notes Read Reads Rise Sire Sir Tire Tires Tired Raid Raids Aid Aids Ear Ears Dint Action Actions Reaction Reactions Cone Cones

Facebook's Text Twirl application is driving me insane. I do this all the time now. Even when I'm trying to read or study.

Jul. 2nd, 2008

I have nothing insightful to say.

I am bad with confrontation. I lack confidence, cannot convert fence-sitters, I think. I like the internet. Physical argument is a lot more intimidating. I am glad to have friends who agree with me. Who isn't? It is one thing to pick friends who agree with you. But people often pick opinions so that they can agree with their friends. That is one of the suckiest things about humanity.

I had an argument with an uncle, a few years, over the Kanchi seer and hindutva in general. As is my habit, I have imaginary conversations with people. All the time. I have imaginary arguments with this uncle. I hate them.

They call us self-loathing Hindus. They call us appeasers. They call us weak. But real weakness is to give in to those around you, to let the growing wave swallow you. It takes courage to disagree, to have an opinion that is described as disloyal. I am weak, but not so weak that I let calls to loyalty overwhelm my reason. If I were weaker, I'd convert. Fool myself, subvert reason. I think it is fair to say that I am incapable of that.

Fuck Kashmiri Muslims. Fuck the BJP. Fuck the Congress. Fuck the Kashmiri political parties. Fuck middle class Hindutva wankers. Fuck "riot veto" (an expression I owe to[info]myrhineatrocity). Fuck demographic paranoia. Fuck half-assed secularism. Fuck temple boards and waqf boards and haj subsidies. Fuck identity politics. Fuck calls to loyalty.

I could, like[info]rparvaaz, call this country a "madhouse" and laugh at the mess. But she is braver than me.

Why does this disturb me so much? Maybe I should be like George Carlin, and celebrate Humanity's self-destructive dance. Political apathy hasn't appealed to me so much in a long time.

I'll say this: Indians are deeply cynical about politics. But most of us have clear opinions about who the lesser evil is. For more and more people today, it is the BJP.

Bengaluru pride march

mike_higher informs me that today, Bangalore will Hold its  first queer pride march. I wish I could be there, and I feel a little guilty that I can't make it, because.... I'd have to lie to my parents (yeah, I know it sounds silly, but imagine arguing with your parents over this). And besides, I'm still recovering from a little infection I caught on my vacation.

But here's wishing you guys all the best! Consider this my online participation.

On the shrine board mess

From here:

"In a May 26 order, the State government made clear that the ownership of the land would remain unchanged, and that the Shrine Board would have to comply with environment protection laws."

OK, first things first. I do not approve of the use of public land for private religious purposes, nor do I think private religious needs trump the need for environmental protection. So I do not stand for the order, even if it involves no actual transfer of land.

But the conspiracy theories really, really amuse me. Because they seem to be copied from the Hindu Right's  strategy textbook.

 Assholes. Learning from the best.

For the record:

This is not the first instance of half-assed secularism in India. Protest, if you will, the possible damage to the environment, or the use of public land for private need, but to turn this into a Hindu-Muslim conflict is disgusting.

Sometimes I think I should go back to being politically apathetic. Maybe I'll live a longer life.

Brief newsy post

Those of you who believe that the Amarnath Shrine Board mess is symptomatic of the problems that India's half-assed secularism leads to, raise your hands. Those of you who are tired of silly conspiracy theories, also raise your hands.

Other news:

  • Dissent in the TDP over the Telangana mess. So India might soon have a new state.
  • Where would a BJP government face protests over the desecration of the Ganga? Uttarakhand. I'd posted about this before, but I thought it was time for an update. There isn't much that is new. The stir continues, that is all.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is trying to make Parashuram the new Brahmin hero. I will be amused if this leads to a Brahmin-Kshatriya tiff, thus splitting the Hindutva vote. I mean, seriously, the chap is supposed to have single-handedly committed 21 acts of genocide against the Kshatriyas. Aren't they pissed off? (To those of you who point out that Parashuram is one of the ten avatars and thus a universally accepted part of Hindu pantheon: I say blah. You simply fail to comprehend my sick sense of humour)
  • An update on the train to Kashmir. The stations look pretty. I want to visit.
  • A piece on Delhi's architecture that I found vaguely interesting.
Sorry, boys and girls, I don't have the time or the patience for the old-style, super-long, link-heavy posts.

Rameswaram is a nice place to sit and stare at the waves. And there is a large temple. But apart from that, it's just another dirty little Tamil town that stinks of fish all day. The temple is located at the southern end of the island, with the ocean just down the street. Pilgrims bathe here, seemingly uninformed about the small sewer that shamelessly snakes its way into the water. Not too far from them, either. Maybe the BJP should take this up.

Perhaps there are prettier spots in the North we* didn't bother visiting. But we took photos.

But we visited the temple. Temples in South India (I have little experience of temples outside South India) always make me a little sad leave me thoroughly annoyed. It is not my disinterest in religion that puts me off - I would visit anything with a tall gopuram, if only the temple wasn't so crowded, noisy, filthy and poorly maintained. This temple was all of those things.

North Indian tourists in turbans and dhotis walked about dazed and confused, while their Tamil guides yelled instructions at them in Hindi. Others trudged along in drenched clothes, fresh from their ocean dips. There were those familiar temple barricades near the inner shrine. There was that familiar, mucky liquid on the floor. There were those familiar attempts to make money out of religion. I was reminded again of why I'd stopped visiting temples, even large and pretty ones.

South of the temple is a walkway that runs along a small part of the coast. We spent some time there, pretending not to notice the goats and their poo, the little patch of the beach that was filled with garbage, the sewer and the bathing pilgrims. We finally settled down at a bench near the end of the walkway. A fellow sat to our left, a brahmin-face if there ever was one. He wore an office shirt over his lungi. His hair trimmed like a priest, a tiny bit tied in a knot behind his head. He sat cross-legged, hands in a mudra, eyes closed and head tilted to one side. He was either deep in meditation or fast asleep. A woman walked up to us, hoping to sell some peanuts. When we refused, she turned around and began walking in the other direction. I wondered how many times she had had to walk up and down that day. After that, I went back to staring at the waves. That was one thing I liked doing at Rameswaram.

To get to Rameswaram, we had to stop at Madurai. We also visited the temple there, which was much like the one at Rameswaram, only smaller and uglier. The town was tiny and depressing, and also surprisingly political, with large posters of the DMK dynasty everywhere. The gopurams of the Madurai temple are supposed to be very pretty, but I wouldn't really know, as they were being repainted when we visited.

To get to Madurai we had to drive through Munnar and the Western ghats. The view wasn't bad.

Did I ever tell you I have a fear of heights?

*We being mum, me, bhai and mausi.


And... I'm back

Despite what it looks like, this is not cheap desi alcohol. It is simply warm water with dry ginger. It's something they do in Kerala. I was in Kochi, visiting an aunt. A shopping expedition produced the following photographs. Since most of them were taken from a moving car, I hope the poor quality will be excused. I wish I had more time to loaf around the city and hunt for construction sites and tall buildings. But in Kochi, like many Indian cities, you will find construction even if you're not looking.

Kochi is a fairly likable city. It is cleaner than most Indian cities I have been too, is small without being too chaotic or depressing, and seems to exploding vertically. I should really visit again soon, and take better photographs this time.


Phani V K

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