Wednesday, 27 March 2013

1984 by George Orwell:Manifestations in our Era I

There are times when your association with a book does not end up with the mere act of reading the final word. In fact, the book has already left such a deep imprint on your conscience that you can no longer fathom a renegade against the ideas or excerpts presented in it. Such is the case with George Orwell's 1984. The book was written in 1949 as an expression of the author's supposed prophecy about how an envisaged state of Oceania would look in 1984. The book talks about a strictly controlled regime, Oligarchy as the only political ideology , filthy lifestyles with procurement of desiderata being the primordial aim of life, false and specious claims made by the government, curbing of public thought and apostasy to not just the extent of spoken word but even to the public thought, total monitoring of all aspects of life, and the ever watching face of the Big Brother. If you ever wondered what could be the ostensible source of the concept used by reality shows like Big Brother and Bigg Boss, it was this book and its verses. Just like the cameras of BB house always stalked the participants and tracked every activity, the telescreens of Orwell's 1984 tracked every movement and every aspect of the citizens of the state of Oceania. And just as a poster sized eye of Bigg Boss or Big Brother seems to follow you wherever you roam in the house, the ever watching face in Big Brother's life size cutout seems to be following you everywhere with its heretical quote "Big Brother is watching you". If the book in itself inspired a complete cohort of reality shows which subsequently turned out to be so successful, I was wondering if there are many more manifestations in our current lives which apparently are veiled from our eyes. This series of posts is devoted to that intent.

The ever watching face of the Big Brother is nothing but an articulately captured face of the man who is the leader of the party that rules over Oceania. The face can be found on walls of the house, corridors of the residential as well as official buildings, corners and conspicuous points on streets and almost on every space that meets the eye. The picture could also be found on the currency notes of Oceania. The face and the associated quote is not just an ostentatious way of flaunting the face of the leader but a way of asserting their leadership and their prowess by virtue of using a very niche form of symbolism. The face is put everywhere and rules are setup against those who try to remove it or torn it. This makes sure that irrespective of where you go and what you do, you'll have a cutout of Big Brother observing you. The cutout is just an assertive entity which comes with telescreens which are comparatively paltry in number and can actually notice your activity unlike the face of the Big Brother that is just a piece of canvas or paper. However, the two combine to create a sort of trepidation that shrivels through the conscientiousness of the citizen in a way that vests the orthodoxies of the rule and the regime in his/her mind. The two form a kind of amalgamation to ensure that the public stays extremely wary about the consequences of going against the government ruling the state. The face may not observe you but the telescreens could. There were also certain concealed microphones whose presence or absence you could never be sure of. Hence the kind of effect produced through this was very humongous in magnitude. Every citizen of Oceania would have to think an umpteen number of times because of being in the notion of being heard or seen. The face of the Big Brother issuing the continuous uninterrupted warning just compounded the feeling of getting caught. It was all about using symbolism as an effective way of asserting your presence in a seemingly comprehensible way.

Its very perspicuous to find out a trend of modern rule where that heterodoxy is being vested. Ever watched a movie where the room of a police station or the office of a top notch government official was shown. You can easily spot photographs of certain leaders hanging of the walls. Some of these photographs belong to Gandhi or Ambedkar or Bose and there's nothing wrong with it because these virtuoso had a very relevant role to play in our independence and their thoughts ought to be promulgated by virtue of such presentations. What is peculiar are the photos of Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, for that matter. These individuals had no role to play in the independence of the nation and they were politicians in every regard and elected just like the other politicians. Hence irrespective of how much they did for the nation, these offices and the associated personnel must have had no compulsion on their own to put pictures of them on their walls. This could have come out either of sycophancy or adulation of leaders who belonged to the same political outfit, or out of a tacit mandate of putting pictures as instructed. In fact the trend could date back to the first elected government when photographs of a ruling leader or of a leader whose party is still ruling were for the first time put on walls. The trend strengthened and got somewhat fortified during and after the emergency when even the movie makers made every possible attempt to capture this connotation by deliberately placing cameras in a way that makes sure that these pictures could be seen.This was once again nothing but a mere way of asserting authority over those who are supposed to be the tier two of a hierarchy that was headed by the leaders whose pictures were concerned.Symbolism can be powerful ! It was so effective that during the emergency when the number of pictures put on the walls of the offices increased manifold, the proficiency and the throughput of the officials too increased considerably. This was done not at the behest of respect for the leaders but at the behest of the dread exerted by their virtual presence in their rooms.

This philosophy has now extended beyond the mere confinement of pictures and has spread over to statues and naming of public conveniences. This is particularly prevalent specially in UP. The leader who wins elections erects her effigies all over an area that runs for acres and acres, and renames most of the educational  institutions and important flyovers and buildings after her or after the man who contrived the ideology of her party. When the other party which is at loggerheads with this one comes into power, it demolishes these same statues,renames the same buildings after their own leaders and the cycle keeps going on and on. The parties wouldn't have indulged into this fracas if they held any skepticism about its efficacy, but the very fact that they spend a substantial chunk of their capital on it shows how big an impact it has on the naive and gullible lot of destitute and indigent voters who see upon these as their messiahs. Such is the power of symbolism and such is the applicability and the veracity of methods and modes that Orwell neatly described in a book that is so far from our reality and yet deeply imbibed in it.

Do pour in your thoughts and comments and remember, "Big Brother is watching you".

Monday, 25 March 2013

Paranormal Activity IV: The Befallen Anathema

It's often felt that a total servitude to your passion and your eagerness can promptly result in the biggest of your achievements or the biggest of your discoveries. It has been a good 12 years since the below mentioned series of events was witnessed by me and a few more chaps of mine, but the sequence is as fresh as it was when we chose to be audacious to a force whose very presence we suspected. This is related to an ages old anathema whose promulgation and whose denouncements,although I was never sure of their authenticity and never will be, once gallored.

I was in my sixth standard when these peculiar and inexplicable events unfolded. There was a very ridden and unorganized kind of pasture near the far boundary of my school's premises. This boundary was kept reserved for prospective construction and expansion activities in the future. Although there was a well built wall guiding this boundary, there were a few gaps and conspicuous crevices here and there.Now coming to the curse. A few friends of mine had always told me tales of a witch who probably resided in that portion of land when there was nothing build around it. It was said that the witch had probably killed a few boys and she herself got eliminated in either this same process or some other ominous procedure which was to follow. Nothing was ever claimed about the bodies of the boys but it was said that the witch was sealed in a clad and was buried nearby. It was also said that the witch had an anathema associated with her afterlife confinement. This much was the version of the story that I got from quite a varied lot of sources that comprised primarily of friends from my own class and a few seniors.Irrespective of how varied their versions were, most of them shared a mention of the witch.

I was pretty much certain for the larger part that these rumors and fables are nothing but stories cooked up entirely out of the imagination of kids who've grown up watching TV programs of similar flavor. But I always had a sense of inquisitiveness associated with this pagan belief. For around the first 3 years at the school, I or any of my fellow mates never made any attempt to check the veracity of this story. Perhaps all of us held skepticism about this being a story purely cooked up by the other and none of us was really in a position to find the root of it. But then came a time when out of nowhere we, as a group of around 20 students, decided to devote all of our games and extra activities periods in expediting this stretch which though was just a few meters from the main building, was still somewhat hidden because of the overgrown belt of bushes.

We just used to delve into this stretch with our sticks and stones. We dug out some soil, found out some old receipt books of the school of which some dated back to around 1987(2000 was the year when we did this), and found some old notebooks and torn apart practical files which ones again dated back to the early 90's. We sort of started to feel a sense of intrigue by finding things that in someway manifested a very different timeline. We also found a few Cosco tennis balls which perhaps came there as a result of cricket shots being hit with a larger magnitude of force than required. These balls seemed to us as a kind of reward for our hard work. We kept excavating the area and we had even formed a well formed path using sticks and strings to mark the way that we would use when we would come back the next time. For about a month or so, this area engrossed our awe and amazement as we did something very different from what the rest of the school did in the sports periods. We were at the same time wary of not getting caught for coming into an area that was tacitly prohibited. And then came the time!

When we were on the verge of stopping this never ending exercise and were probably spending our last handful of days in the marked territory, we were to witness a spectacle which is somewhat difficult to explain. One day, when we were digging around the very wall that guarded the school, we found the bone that perhaps seemed to be either the neck bone of a small animal or a reminiscent of the toe bone or some other complex bone of perhaps some larger animal. We were not very sure about it. Then after a day or two, we found a group of ants carrying another portion of some bone, which certainly seemed to be that of a chicken.The ants carried it to the other end of the wall through a hole. The sight somewhat amassed all of us near itself. As we all tried to garner the intricacies of the scene, an unusual kind of cacophonous tone started coming from an electricity or phone pole that was situated adjacent to the wall. This kind of tone was often reproducible by dialing a particular number on the PSTN landline networks but never before had any of us seen any telephone or electricity(we were so scared that we could not even notice what pole it is !)pole emitting this kind of tone.We simply ran away from the place, frightened out and trembling out of trepidation.

Never again in my conscience was I going to make an attempt of excavating that territory again.Although the thought of going back again and finding out the nature of that pole did captivate us, we never really had the courage to go back. However, a few days after this supposed tryst ended, a swimming pool was proposed to be built around that area. The whole portion of land which was once a subject of our fear, was now occupied by machinery and hutches of men who were to complete the structure.Nothing peculiar happened during the course of the construction and the swimming pool was built on time. The boundaries of the school were accordingly adjusted and what was once a barren and rarely visited land, was now turned into a spectacle and a place with a large footfall. As people started visiting the pool, so did I and all others who were a part of that expedition cohort. Nothing unusual or grizzly ever happened during our stay. However, one could always sense a very admonishing silence around the place but this could always have been attributed to the high rising walls which possibly insulated the pool from outside.Nothing unusual  happened with the pool except for a case or two of amateurs nearly drowning themselves by mistakenly going in the deep area and then later on getting saved by the vigil and valorous instructors. But as such, nothing different or vague ever happened with it.

There was one thing though that always stayed with the area and with the everlasting horizons that extended beyond the boundary of the school. As the pool was completed, the total school boundary got a revamp. As a result, the bushes were all cleared up and the whole scene from across the far end of the school and in fact a few good meters beyond it was now clearly visible from even the windows of our class.Hence, the area that was once visible only by subsiding the bushes and physically entering the territory was now very much visible even from a distance. As our classes went on, I always stopped to take note of a person who always donned white overalls and who almost always seemed to be standing near one of the poles,which ostensibly belonged to the same series as the one which emitted a sound, and then would go away after some stipulated time. This always happened in the morning. As my classroom shifted to the dorsal side of the school, I was no longer in a position of taking a note of this man's presence. Then a few years later, once again my classroom was shifted to the frontal side. This time,the man's regime seemed to have changed as he no longer stood near the pole. But one day, when the clouds were pouring heavily, an extremely sharp short circuit seemed to have trickled that pole. The light and the sound were sharp enough to let me know that these poles were a part of an electric transmission. Hence what I witnessed years ago was an electronic pole emitting a kind of tone which one gets by dialing some code number on landline telephone. That was enough to let me know of what the sight wanted to convey. There may be a force whose veracity may be very very specious and apocryphal and yet as long as you don't have enough evidence to outright deny it, you're not supposed to titillate it !

Friday, 22 March 2013

There are somethings money can't buy !

A few days back our government made a change that was amongst the most crucial and the most trendsetting of changes that any government is ever likely to make on a social front. I'm talking about the Direct Cash Transfer scheme which is all set to render the existing public distribution system obsolete and which in all probabilities will spur an entirely new system of government aided distribution. Although the prospect of transferring the tantamount amount to the bank accounts seems to be a more plausible concept than providing subsidies, there is an inherent flaw - one that is capable of demolishing our whole society within a couple of years.

Whereas the pre-existent public ration system supposedly ensured that people get the requisite amount of grains,cereals and other basic desiderata at highly subsidized rates to sustain their petty lives, the new system would deter them from getting the subsidies on purchase and would instead transfer the amount to their bank accounts that ostensibly would be linked to their Aadhar Identification cards.This would undoubtedly whim away most of the corruptibility that was so prevalent in the previous system, it has the capability of defeating the very purpose of the new system. We, on one hand are ready to give these destitute,deprived and tormented souls a way to control their lives and manage their money, but we fail to realize that they are in no position to know how to use it.

The families which are entitled to these benefits are the ones who have have been literally savaged by circumstances and have the least of considerations about their future, be it long term or short term. The demographics of these families are both varied and vivid and yet if there is a common link, it lies in their value system. Their value system and their credos are ones that have been created and generated in their own niche environments. For them, its not about living a better life tomorrow, but about just living through today and living through today in the best possible manner. Life, for them, is no more a present, but just another obligation that needs to be fulfilled with the least possible compunction. It is this very underpinning that we have to be considerate about.

These families, which have long been deprived of money, will know no way to use that money.They are extremely weak on pecuniary management. Till now, it was about the food and the food was something that had an inherent capability of being vehemently distributed in an equitable manner. But now, when it will come to money, it would be the guardian who gets to have his/her say depending on whether its a patriarchy or matriarchy. Subsequently, the guardians who incessantly have only been considerate about their present just because they sensed no future, would contrive the possibility of bettering their present lives by using this money. However, for them it would not be about shelter or clothing but about the savory and ephemeral luxuries that were once inaccessible. In an instant, most of the newly earned money would be spent on liquor,tobacco and other stuff from the similar cohort. Consequently, this temptation of using a more than justified sum of money on personal pleasures would outweigh any considerations about the iniquities vested on the family. Slowly and slowly, these habits would become inveterate and would spread over all the members irrespective of their ages. This would eventually take their share of grain from them and would make them addictive to privileges which after a point of time, they won't be able to afford.

This is not merely about the lackadaisical value system but about the vicissitudes of life. These families would never have a reason to believe that saving the money or spending the money more judicially would do any good. This is because in their communities, money saved today would be robbed by others tomorrow. Hence, they'll have no other way but to spend it as soon as possible and in as rewarding a way as possible. They would eventually become incorrigible as this may be the only way of living a life. We, as the upper strata of the so-called society, have to understand that these sections are not capable of a cultural retribution. They, in fact depend upon us for any upheaval or any direction. And by giving them cash in lieu of subsidies, we'll be doing nothing but sending them in an avenue whose consequences are hard to conjure.

Now the question is to find a suitable replacement. Although the existent system obviously has its vagaries and flaws, it has worked well to some extent for quite a lot of time. If scrapping subsidies on sale is the only viable option, a monitoring unit will have to be setup to make sure that the families are using the balance in their bank account for the things that they are actually supposed to buy.Most probably, the concept of after sale subsidy transfer, which means that the requisite subsidy would be transferred to the account only after making a purchase,would be the best bet. However, that would mean that these families would first have to shed their pockets, which again is an quixotic proposition given their state. Hence, a pre-sale subsidy transfer could be done with due and stringent checks on the manner in which the allotted capital is spent. To encourage healthy spending habits,families who tend to save and use only as much as needed should be rewarded with extra inflow and such incidents should also be duly promulgated. Once again, its upon us to realize that these families will do what we direct them to do. Their fate may be sealed by us, buts its them who complete the fabric of our nation.

This post was written as a part of the #iDiya initiative. Here's the link for the same.
http://www.isb.edu/idiya/