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Showing posts with label Hindu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hindu. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Open Letter to Aamir Khan on AIB Roast

You can only be offended if you choose to take offense.
Nikhil Vaish 

Dear Aamir,

We met one time for a business meeting almost two decades ago. I doubt you will remember, but there were a few things about our meeting and the impression you made on me that I never forgot.

The first thing that surprised me is that you asked your manager not to join our meeting. Every Bollywood star we had dealt with had insisted that we communicate with them through their managers. I guess seeing the surprise on our faces you explained that you liked to speak for yourself and manage your own affairs. You believed all your professional decisions were yours to make and added that, being the ultimate decision-maker, you would also be wasting our time by making us go through a manager. Both my creative head and I respected you for this professional courtesy.

The second thing that impressed me greatly was your no bullshit common sense and clear understanding of the fundamentals of marketing. We had come to talk to you about a big national ad campaign that we were developing for a multi-national company.  Other stars we had spoken with cared mostly about negotiating their fees and discussing travel arrangements, asking if family could accompany them at our expense. But you spent all of your time quizzing us about details of the script, insisting you would need final sign-off, and then proceeded to drill us about the media strategy. No actor had ever asked about any of this information, or even seemed to care. I know my creative director was glad he had brought this account man along!

Sufficed to say, while I will not divulge the details of our meeting, your logic was sound and demonstrated an innate understating of building and managing brands. It was also in complete contrast to the immaturity, emotional histrionics and self-absorption we were warned to expect from Bollywood. Yet, this is not what impressed me most about you. It was that everything you said, you did with a wry smile. Almost as if you only half-believed or were half-serious about the all fundas and logic you were sharing with us to weigh your decision. It left me feeling that while you took your art and the business of movies very seriously, you had not succumbed to the superficiality and transient nature of stardom and success – and did not take yourself too seriously. You had a healthy dose of reality, common sense and a clear, rational head on your shoulders. I left there with greater respect for you. You were never preachy, sanctimonious or condescending.

So naturally, I was shocked the other day to read about your comments on the AIB roast, even after you admitted that you had not seen the whole show, just a clip or two. I was not bothered by the fact that you were offended by it, or that you thought it puerile, juvenile and in poor taste. What troubled me greatly was that you equated it to violence. You said, "I felt it was a very violent event. Violence is not only physical; it can be verbal and emotional too. When you insult someone, you perpetuate violence…" (Source: “Aamir Khan, be a Responsible Celebrity”, NDTV). You did say that you were not advocating a witch hunt against those involved, but also went on to say that they should be punished if they broke any laws and you called them irresponsible; adding that celebrities need to be more responsible.

I will not get into the double standard, based on your own defence of Delhi Belly or more recently for PK, as many others have written about this. I want to re-iterate the point about your responsibility, as a celebrity. A blogger named Vidyut also made this point quite passionately. You are a super star and that means you have a super mega pulpit. Based purely on your celebrity, people listen to you with rose-tinted glasses when you speak about any issue, versus ANY other prominent public figure. And people tend to try and rationalise emotional issues in emotional and irrational ways. As Vidyut puts it: “When a large voice like yours tells people that people speaking must be careful, and people who get offended can ask them to stop, a thousand voices like mine get raw throats trying to talk sanity on the issue and explain why it is not okay to shut people up just because you don’t like what they say. “but even Aamir Khan agrees…” (Source: “Open letter to Aamir Khan” by Vidyut).

The Aamir I met might say with a wry smile, something that I know my father would have said, that “the AIB Roast is not my idea of intelligent humour and in my mind the jokes went beyond a sense of decency and decorum that I strive to uphold BUT this is a free country; and Karan, Tanmay, the AIB gang and their audience were all adults. If they can find an audience for this type of puerile and juvenile rubbish (and people are willing to throw away their hard earned money to watch it), then all the power to them; just don’t ever expect me to condone it or be part of it.” 

Now more than ever, India needs the Aamir I met all those years ago. We need him to come down from his perch and talk sense, so that cooler heads can once again prevail in this important and necessary debate.



Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Defense of Being Offensive and the AIB Roast

“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

I watched the AIB roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in its entirety and finished literally minutes before it was pulled down from YouTube. I will admit that I laughed out loud, rolled my eyes and even cringed sometimes at the level of crudeness but more importantly I also swelled with pride. Yes, I felt proud to call myself an Indian; even thought I found some parts offensive and in poor taste. Not because AIB broke new ground with this roast (which is a copy of the US format) with crass, sexual, politically incorrect and offensive humour, but because we broke new ground against our own double standards. We lifted the veneer of hypocrisy and the superficial veil of so called Hindu culture that we pretend to defend. I for one have never been prouder of Karan Johar or Bollywood for doing something that was unselfish and helped lift the lid on issues that have long been buried inside every Indian home. Thank you all for your courage.

It is shameful that, due to the personal and physical threats that the participants have received, they have felt compelled to remove the video from YouTube.  Here is the official statement about why they felt the need to pull the video down from the internet. Even though this was an event organised by a group of adults who agreed to insult each other and it was viewed by a group of adults who willingly paid to watch it. Also, if it offends some people’s delicate sensibilities, then they can choose not to watch it. They have that choice, and a right to feel offended and even to be offensive themselves. Much like Ashoke Pandit, a censor board member was offensive with his tweet about Karan Johar; I personally think he is an idiot, but will defend his right to be one – this is democracy and what we need to protect.

I firmly believe that comedy should have no boundaries or restrictions, because it is meant to entertain, lighten our worldly burdens and be nothing more than a laughing matter. The only caveat is that the comedian dishing it out does so equally, and does not target a single race or stereotype. Also, I strongly suspect that there are not too many bitter, malicious, mean-spirited bigots who decide to pursue a career in comedy. Consider the fact that during this roast, all the participants made fun of themselves and each other, occasionally making significant others or family members also part of their jokes. Karan Johar's spending so many years in the closet was made fun off with equal vigor and crassness as Ranveer's being a slut or Tanmay Bhat’s obesity. Tanmay was not offended. Deepika Padukone, who is dating Ranveer Singh, was not offended. Even Karan Johar’s mother, who was sitting in the front row, did not take offence – so why are you? Ever think that maybe you feel offended because these things hit close to home? That we live in a society filled with double standards, one that is clearly sexually repressed and one where most men ascribe to dating the fun, wild women but yet want to marry only a virginal, modest bahu? Who in India has not heard worse language being used on the streets or in parliament?

Let’s spend a minute discussing the other elephant in the room – male, female and cultural stereotypes. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that ALL stereotypes are rooted in some reality and none pure figments of our imagination. So this issue, to my mind, is not so much that someone is making fun at my expense using a stereotype about being gay, male, Sindhi, or north Indian, but whether or not the intent behind it is malicious, or coming from a light-hearted place. Think about it. There is a fundamental difference here, and a hugely important distinction that every person needs to make. It is imperative we all make this distinction in our ever-shrinking global village, if we are to ever make progress and thrive. This is not about all of us hugging and getting along, but about the need to have a thicker skin in a heterogeneous world and being able to judge the context. Sticks and stones, people...

The easiest way to explain the difference in the context is to imagine Dave Chappelle (a very famous American comic) putting on Ku Klux Klan robes and making off-colour black jokes versus an actual Klansman telling the same jokes or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making fun of Jews. There is a fundamental difference; one clearly comes from a place of genuine hatred, bigotry and anger, while the other is in jest, and therefore should be encouraged and protected since it is not intended to malign or incite hatred. If you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are the one who is not comfortable in your own skin. Most times feeling offended has nothing to do with culture or religion, only your own insecurity.

One final thought. If you are among those offended by comedians and movie stars making fun of themselves (while raising money for charity), and also feel you have been anointed guardians of some mystical, pure and holy Indian culture that you claim to defend - then why are you not outraged by the fact that marital rape is legal in India; that in 2015 we are still willing to treat fellow human beings as untouchable, and that Indian men routinely grope and touch women on every street, bus, and airplane in India?

Let’s start by fixing our own hypocrisy, in our homes and in our lives, before becoming judge and jury for our society.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India: Mr. Narendra Modi

"Democracy is a device that ensures that we will be governed no better than we deserve.”
George Bernard Shaw 

Dear Mr. Modi,

Your mandate is greater than any party has had in decades, and it is yours to squander. The people of India have spoken loudly and clearly, but for me you need to start by reaffirming the most sacred duty of a Prime Minister: that of protecting ALL the children of India without regard for their religion, caste or creed. This duty must extend beyond protection. You must also provide equal opportunity to every Indian, giving each one a chance to lift himself from poverty with the benefit of an education. 

For the record, I have long abhorred the Congress-led vote-bank politics of pseudo-secularism that they have played over the last sixty plus years. All they have done is paid lip service to the word, doing nothing to help liberate our downtrodden. They have given sop’s to buy votes in the name of helping people, and created quotas in the name of providing opportunity. This has merely created the illusion of opportunity, and pushed people into jobs for which they are ill-qualified. This has led to further resentment. The Congress Party has done a great disservice to secularism merely to maintain their corrupt grasp on power.

We have the third largest Muslim population in the world, a fact that should make us all proud. They are a part of the rich fabric of our culture and its vibrant history. Now it is time they became an intrinsic part of our future. In many parts of the country, Muslims are still treated like second-class citizens or viewed with great fear and mistrust. Many believe they are terrorists, or that India will be better off without them. 

Much of this is due to irresponsible vote bank politics, but it is equally due to the fact that it has been convenient to let the majority of Indian Muslims live in the dark ages, under the thumbs of medieval mullahs, who in the name of religion have imprisoned their minds. “Muslims have the lowest literacy rates among all religious communities in the country…” (Source: Times of India article) There is no question that the Congress and their allies have been complicit in allowing this to continue. You can and must change this.

There are many well educated people who have come to believe that Indian Muslims are holding our country back. Some have told me that they believe we should pack all the Muslims off to Bangladesh or Pakistan where they belong. To all these people (and the RSS) I say, let us for a moment look at every country in the world that has staked their national identity on a religion or ethnicity. Where are they today? Do we want India to become a Hindu state so we can be more like a Pakistan or Bangladesh, an Iran or Saudi Arabia or even a Russia? Is this what the next generation really wants? 

country that has chosen to define itself based on religious affiliation, and discriminated against everyone else, has suffered lack of innovation mainly due to lack of diverse talent. These countries will never become economic powerhouses. The fact is that economic might is derived from inclusion rather than exclusion because a great idea knows no colour, caste, creed or religion. Americans realised this a century ago and made an effort to embrace people of all races and religions. The aim was to attract the brightest and best minds from around the world with the lure of higher education, equal opportunity and a reasonably level playing field. 

Ultimately, it is the diversity of our cultures that enables world-beating innovation, which in turn is the most potent engine for job creation and sustained economic growth. Unlike any other country in the world, India’s veins are already bursting with rich and diverse talent - just imagine what we can accomplish if you can help unleash this. India will truly shine.

You must provide every Indian with the right to education, and free all people from the tyranny of ignorance. Put every girl in school, affording her the same opportunities that a boy gets in life. Reaffirm the fact that without our diversity we would be a lesser country and a weaker nation. This is the challenge the people of India have put forth to you. 

Let your legacy be that of an RSS man who took great pains to wipe away the notion of India ever becoming a Hindu state. But if you take us down a path of communal discord or begin to allow the RSS machinery to start creating a subtle and more sophisticated 21st century apartheid like apparatus to discriminate against non-Hindus, then India will once again overwhelmingly choose corruption over communalism at the ballot box in five short years.

So give us the prime minister who helped us beat China (which EVERY Indian knows we can) by unleashing our potential with unbiased leadership, transparent government, business-friendly and consistent policies, all built on a truly secular vision for India.

Give us toilets; not temples…Jai Hind!

A Citizen of India

NOTE: updated on 1st June, 2014

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Real India

“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday’s bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”
Mark Twain

All my life I have believed in an India that increasingly exists only in my mind’s eye. Perhaps, this India of which I am so proud to be a citizen is merely an idea that has not yet been fully realized. Increasingly, it feels like this great vision of India rarely matches the reality that I see.

My India is rich with diversity, the birthplace of three of the world’s major religions (friend, guide and philosopher to the other three) and home to every religion practiced by man. In this India, it is our diversity, and not our divisions, that make us stronger, richer and more powerful. In my India, I am always proud to be Indian first; then Bengali, Tamilian, Gujarati, Malayali, Punjabi or Jain. 

In this India, I am also proud that India is still home to the second largest Muslim population in the world; in spite of the creation of two Muslim states on her borders. This is what makes the fabric of my India so rich and her cultural mosaic the envy of the civilized world. No other country in the world can claim to have this breadth of heritage and depth of diversity running through her veins.  

As long as each of us clings to being a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or a Jain then we will remain only a very small and totally inconsequential part of this India.

In this India, Hinduism is not a religion, but a philosophy for a way of life. It is an accumulation of ideas, beliefs, traditions, philosophies and cultural practices that were collected and shaped over centuries. Unlike other religions, Hinduism cannot be neatly slotted into a specific belief system. 

It is a Dharma, or a set of philosophies that are meant to govern our personal beliefs and worldly actions. Interestingly, it is the only religion in the world that cannot be traced back to one single individual or book. And the only religion that does not require a person to “convert” or have a religious affiliation to it in order to receive its teachings. 

The word “Hindu” cannot be found in any of its scriptures. In fact, it was first used by invading Arabs to describe al-Hind, or the land of the people who live across the river Indus; and it was only toward the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus (source: Wikipedia). 

Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion, pre-dating Judaism, Christianity and Islam by a few thousand years. If you look at its practices, unlike other religions, it does not tell you who to worship, what to eat, which day or how many times to pray, but instead offers things like Yoga, Ayurveda and Vastu. At its core it is about self-awareness and the idea of “live and let live;” with an underlying belief system based on truth, honesty, non-violence, cleanliness, austerity and perseverance. Perhaps, this is the reason it is often referred to as the “enlightened religion.” This is the true nature of the religion we today call Hinduism.

The Hinduism that is preached, practiced and used as a tool to create communal strife and manipulate the voting public today is barely recognizable, and not part of my India. It has been bastardized by Hindu fundamentalists and hijacked by self-appointed chieftains and politicians as a way to divide the country and buy votes. But it is too easy to blame just the power hungry; for individuals too it has deteriorated into regular offerings of millions of rupees in gold, silver and precious gems to their Gods – purely as a way to atone and wash away all the worldly sins they commit outside their temple walls. 

These offerings lie collecting dust in temple vaults while 830 million Indian’s live on less than Rs. 20 per day ($0.44c or UK 0.27 pence). A person going to the temple with bags full of gold or cash can pass a starving child on the way to their deity, and look the other way. However, he will have no qualms about handing over all his possessions to fat, corrupt temple officials as an offering to an inanimate block of stone. This is what we have reduced Hinduism to, a worthless transaction that does nothing to help us live better lives, become better human beings, help our fellow countrymen or even our own country.

In my India we celebrate and hold dear our heritage, not simply because it is thousands of years old, but because it is responsible for our wealth of diversity, today. Which other non-Muslim country in the world can claim to have so many different successful Muslim figures across every aspect of society, even though they are a minority in a country whose population is more than four-fifths Hindu? 

We have had three Muslim Presidents; the Khans still rule Bollywood and Azim Premji is one of the richest men in the world. We can also proudly lay claim to Javed Akhtar and A.R. Rehman and feel great pride in the fact that one of our most patriotic and well-known songs “Saare Jahan Se Achchha,” was a great collaboration. It was penned by Muhammed Iqbal, a Muslim, and the music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, a Hindu. In fact, in this India we don’t just blindly recite the lyrics, we hold them dear.

“maz’hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā”

“Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among us
We are Indians, India is our homeland”

We take their meaning to heart and reflect this in the way we live our lives. And we hang our heads in shame at the fact that we all stood idly by and watched one of our greatest national treasures, the late artist M. F. Hussain, die in a foreign land where he felt he needed to seek refuge (and accept citizenship) because thugs in saffron made sure he would never feel safe in his own home again. 

This even after the Supreme Court threw out all the completely frivolous lawsuits against his nude paintings of Indian Goddesses; refusing to initiate criminal proceedings against him for hurting Hindu sentiments. The court also called out the clear anti-Muslim motives behind these cases, by stating the fact that Hindu temples are filled with much more graphic depictions of nude Goddesses in pictures, paintings and sculptures, and it seems that this never hurt Hindu sentiments in a few thousand years.

This India is not about all hugging and getting along. I doubt man will ever be able to do that, but it is about accepting that we are not all the same; that we will never look, dress, think and pray alike, but that each of us has something to contribute and much more to learn. It is about recognizing that this learning is what makes us all stronger, richer, greater and more successful as a nation. 

It is only once we are all able to embrace this notion that we can stop our leaders from dividing us based on the inconsequential differences that exist between us. Until then, I will treasure this India in my mind’s eye.