April 14, 2011

Anna and the logic behind hunger strikes

As a kid, whenever I sat down to do my homework, it felt like I was doing someone a big favor. The only thing I ever got in return was for all the trouble was “no punishment”. Now what kind of an incentive is “no punishment”? I knew right away, that life isn’t fair but luckily I found a way around.

I realized saying things like “I won’t eat till I get a new pencil box to complete my math homework” or “I won’t eat unless you let me watch TV for half an hour” usually gets good returns. And it worked for the first few times. When I was eight years old, I started a similar hunger strike but my Mom shot back saying “Fine, sleep hungry and get punished at school tomorrow!” That was the moment I was convinced that "not-eating" is not a good strategy to get things done in the adult world! Clearly, I am not cut out for Indian politics!

Notes on Anna

Unlike a lot of young people in India, I did not get all worked up about my support for Anna Hazare’s successful fast-unto-death. By the time I found time to do some research and pick a side, it was all over...

I am absolutely convinced about Anna Hazare’s good intentions but a little disillusioned with the solutions he proposed. Let’s not delve into details. I can't help but notice that hunger strikes still remain the most potent weapon in Indian politics. It is probably the most important legacy of Gandhi after the hundreds of M.G Roads with potholes and tons of black money with his face printed on it!


A professional hunger-striker?

Why are hunger strikes considered to be peaceful? Isn’t it an insanely passive aggressive thing to do? You are threatening to kill yourself for heaven’s sake! By what stretch of imagination is threatening to kill a person peaceful? I agree it is better than threatening to kill other people but that makes it only “relatively peaceful” or put it in a better way “peaceful only when quoted out of context!” Why do we omit the relative part of it?

Although Anna’s fast was ‘Gandhian’ in every sense of the term and not even a window pane was broken as a consequence of his fast, it is not the case for most of the hunger strikes that happen. For most politicians it is just a wonderful way to get a lot of attention, re-energize their bases and pump some enthusiasm into their party workers and basically kick some political ass!

Hunger Strikes as a Choreographed Media Event

Hunger strikes (especially when politicians do it) are always accompanied by enforced bandhs. Enforced bandhs as we all know makes traffic worse. Plus, there is always a chance for sporadic violence and ‘stuff’ burning activities where stuff begins with an effigy and ends with a fresh fleet of Volvo buses! If you play it safe and stay at home, you have to live with the News anchors on TV going frenzy and blazing live visuals of ugly-looking politicians sitting under a tree and not eating while better looking Bollywood celebs voice their support to the cause!

We see at least one major league politician go on a hunger strike every two or three months. Isn’t it vaguely suspicious that politicians never die in one of these fast-unto-deaths? Isn’t there enough evidence to suggest that not eating will lead to death? I decided to do some research on hunger strikes and I have some interesting results.

An Illustrated History of Hunger Strikes

Given that hundreds of people have got themselves into fasts-unto-death and that not all of them are successful, one wonders why the over all number of deaths is surprisingly low at four!

Why are politicians not dying of hunger?

Whenever a politician goes on a fast – his colleagues and the media are instantly worried about his health. Just after a couple of days, the docs shift him to a hospital and “force” feed him intravenously. Now that’s cheating isn’t it?

The whole point of a fast is to degenerate the body slowly by denying all nutrition. By injecting glucose water (with all the essential proteins and vitamins) into the bloodstream, they’re not denying nutrition to the body. They’re just cutting out the middleman (i.e. the digestive system) from the nutrition cycle! Technically it’s just dieting!

You see, fasting is a relatively simple game. There is only one rule: “Do not eat!” but with the saline bottles and the injections, it has been reduced to “You may eat but not with your hands!” making it very easy to pull off political stunts with choreographed media coverage which sometimes may involve the channels flashing the hunger-striker’s blood pressure and blood glucose levels live on TV!

P.S: I have written most of this post way back in December and have been waiting for someone to go on an indefinite hunger-strike. What can I say, I am like that! 

April 6, 2011

World Cup Celebrations

The most popular format of the game

They (experts, critics, Siddhu etc.) said that this was the most crucial world cup ever because commercial success or failure of this world cup determines the future of the 50 over format. There was also a debate on the most popular format of cricket (Test cricket being the ultimate). Going by the way this world cup went, I am guessing these questions won’t be raised for some time to come.

In my first year at IIT, I have seen the “decline” of the ODI format beginning with the 2007 world cup. I also saw the rise of T20 with the inaugural T20 world cup. Misbah-ul-Haq scooped the last ball and once the camera zoomed into Sreesanth taking the catch, the hundred odd people in our hostel TV room started jumping, dancing, swirling shirts around yelling war cries along with other displays of genuine testosterone based badass-ery. The celebrations lasted for half an hour and then people ate dinner at the canteen and went back to their rooms.

A year later we were the number one ranked team in Tests. People read it in the newspapers, thought to themselves, “Oh, that’s cool” and moved on with their day. The really wild celebrations of the 2011 world cup that went out throughout the night and into the next Monday just showed that ODI is still the real deal and really matters to the crowds.

The Celebrations

Just after the presentation ceremony, hundreds of IITians marched out of their hostels, walking towards the main gate. Some wanted to go to Wankhede, while others yelled Marine Drive but no one knew where they were heading. They just walked (like lively Zombies) yelling “Indyaa, India” or “Sacheen, Sachin”. There wasn’t much difference between the two chants then. There was a general awareness that this is a once-in-a-generation thing. How often does one-sixth of the world’s population feel the same way at the same time?

Image courtesy: I don't know, I stole it from Google Buzz
Most of them walked out of the main gate towards Hiranandani. The atmosphere was amazing. For most people on the road, that was the first time India won the world cup after they were born. Fireworks lit the sky like it was Diwali. Down on the ground, people with painted faces stood on traffic islands, fountains, cars, trucks and everything ‘climb’able to wave flags, shirts and everything ‘wave’able. Sure there was a traffic jam but it was because the drivers got out of their cars and danced with the rest of the crowd!

Funny moment

There was this tall, huge probably drunk white guy who blocked the traffic by dancing shirtless in the middle of the road in front of a car waving his shirt and chanting “Sacheeeen, Sachin” while his expatriate friends looked amazed, worried and sort of embarrassed. The driver of the car instead of getting irritated with the unexpected roadblock simply waved his in hands Bhangra style in sync with the dancing! That sort of summed up the moment for me.

And so the revelry went on for more than an hour after which middle-aged policemen who probably behaved in the same way 28 years ago came to clear up the traffic. Thus the thousands returned back to their nests with the yelling and the chanting and the waving intact.

From our Vizag Bureau

The funniest world cup final story so far comes from a small middle class neighborhood in Vishakapatnam. After Sachin got out, a decent middle-aged gentleman got so pissed that he plugged the TV out of its place, ripped the wires clinging to it and threw the damn thing out from his second floor balcony. This fit of rage rendered his family not just speechless but also TV-less! An hour later, he realized that we were after all winning, so the family went to catch the rest of the match at their neighbor’s. I bet the neighbor spent some nervous moments after Kohli got out!

His wife, clearly shell shocked from her husband’s Neanderthal display, took the kids and ran away to her parents’ home the very next morning. We hear she is not keen on returning back till the gentleman sorts out his rage problem. Our sympathies lie with the middle aged gentleman. After all, “He did for Sachin” ;)

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