Archive for May, 2016


This blog is a bit about crap – literally. The other day I read that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a failure. Why? I have no clue. Is it because Indians, in general, hate being told to maintain cleanliness? Or is it because, those believe that wallowing in filth and dirt is a way of life, just find it too much of an effort to change?

Let me give you example. I once lived in a housing society where my neighbour who lived directly above me had a leaking toilet which was messing up my ceiling. I asked him to repair it, but he refused saying it was my problem since it was my ceiling that was being messed up! I even offered to fund half the repairs but his answer remained unchanged. Finally after years of waiting and watching my ceiling deteriorate, I went up to his flat with a plumber. What I saw made my bile rise. I come from Bhagalpur, a small town in Bihar, where in the days when I was a kid, you squatted on a toilet seat which had a hole you defecated into. Your crap fell into a pot a few feet below which was cleaned daily by a woman who pulled out the pot and emptied it into a bigger pot to be taken away and emptied into some drain. Does reading this make you throw up? Well, that is how I felt when I saw the neighbour’s toilet.

My first thought was, how does he or others in his family even step into the place first thing in the morning, and every time after that? In utter disgust, I paid to get a new toilet bowl for him and also paid for all the repairs and waterproofing. But the dirty truth is he preferred to wallow in the filth rather than repair his toilet bowl – just for a few thousand rupees. This is why I say we Indians are dirty.

Take the way we spit anywhere and everywhere. Does it take the prime minister of the country to tell us that we should not spit in public places? And this has nothing to do with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Sometime in the 1980s I was seeing off a female friend at the Pune railway station. She was travelling home to Hyderabad. As we waited for the Secunderabad Express to arrive she watched very impassively as a couple of men standing a few feet away kept spitting on the tracks every few seconds. It wasn’t as if they were chewing paan or tobacco. They were just spitting for no rhyme or reason. When she couldn’t control herself any longer, she walked up to them and said, “Can you stop spitting? And if you can’t, please move away?”

I wasn’t surprised, because I knew she was one of those who didn’t believe in keeping quiet if she felt strongly about something. When she returned she said exasperatedly, “I come from Hyderabad, so people spitting around me isn’t anything new, but you guys in Pune take it to an altogether different level.”

So when I read that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has failed I am not surprised at all. We just don’t like being told that we should maintain cleanliness. We come out with a whole host of reasons why it is wrong and when that fails we ridicule the prime minister and his request. We ridicule him for spending public money without asking ourselves the one fundamental question. Would he be spending this money if we just took the effort to maintain cleanliness? I mean, people have a problem with the fact that the government is building toilets. This is so typically Indian. It’s just like the crash helmet rule or any other rule we are asked to follow. We’ll dredge out of the muck a hundred reasons on why they cannot follow it. Of course, there is also the point that previous governments have not bothered about ensuring basic sanitation in the villages, building adequate toilets and ensuring water supply to these toilets. But let’s leave that for another day.

Presently, I live in a supposedly upmarket locality where people throw garbage over the walls of the housing societies. Well-meaning groups have been advising residents of the area not to dump their garbage anywhere but does that help? The civic body asked people to segregate their garbage but even their people have a problem. Have they given a thought to the conservancy staff that carries that garbage to the dump yard? Well, that’s not their problem. So we’ll criticise civic body for not sending the truck that does now show up to pick up the rubbish, but have no problem throwing it out of our balconies to keep our homes clean.

So, why is the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan failing? I think it is because the people of India are a filthy lot who expect the prime minister to ensure cleanliness for them, while they party and dirty the place.


Picture1I’ve been reading with avid interest the incident of well-known journalist Rajdeep Sardesai becoming the target of vicious trolls especially after the Agusta Westland scam re-emerged from hiding where it had been conveniently placed by the UPA government for the past so many years. And then, his latest foul-mouthed outburst against trolls and then the revelation that his Twitter account had been hacked, after which he went off Twitter, has been the cause of much angst among his followers and sections of the media, who believe he is being targeted by Modi Bhakts.

Rajdeep is one of the few journalists I have admired in the Indian media right through the years, when he was a part of the print media. I always thought of him as a journalist who retained objectivity in his writings even if he was criticising someone, even though his biases have become more prominent in the past few years. It’s unfortunate that he has become the target of Modi Bhakts and trolls who have taken a dislike for him. He’s been pleading with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to control his bhakts and I’m pretty sure the PM is having a quiet chuckle at the irony of it all – that those who  propagate and staunchly defend the right to free speech are the ones asking for control on it!

But this blog isn’t about Rajdeep, but more about this whole issue of exercising free speech and complete freedom of expression.

The thing is when you call the prime minister ‘feku’ in public and believe you have the right to do so because it’s free speech, be prepared to accept the criticism when someone retaliates in any form they think right. They are also just exercising their right to free speech. Don’t complain.

I am really surprised that journalists flog this nonsense about free speech. Frankly, I think there is too much of it around. That is why on Twitter one can say whatever one wants and get away with it. Swearing and abusing is also free speech. While I understand that some journalists cannot stoop to such levels and are rightfully objecting to the foul language being directed against them, what they need to understand is that they can’t demand free speech and yet demand that some elements be censored just because they have been made the target. Simply, put, you can’t have it both ways.

Look at what is happening in the United States and the United Kingdom where a talk show host can call Trump or Cameron an asshole and continue happily without being dragged to court. A respected newspaper such as the Financial Times of London can publish a lead story headline that says boldly “ACTUALLY, GO FUCK YOUR SELF”. That is absolute free speech. Can we take it?

And when we can’t, we start comparing things to the emergency and fascism! I would have liked to see how many journalists would have written the nonsensical open letters to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency and continued to walk free an hour after it was published – if it ever got that far. It would have been ripped to shreds by a censor sitting in the very office of the media house before it could see the light of day. Or for that matter I would like to know how far prominent journalists who pens satirical pieces would have progressed if there had been no free speech today.

Journalists may be getting back at Modi for the contemptuous way he has been treating them after the elections and one may hold him responsible for his past misdeeds, but don’t expect him to act against his followers who have been viciously targeting all those who dare to take on their hero. If I was him, I would say “You wanted free speech, well, you’ve got it, SO DON’T COMPLAIN”

The proponents of free speech need to understand one thing about it –  it is a bit like bisexuality, it’s perfectly normal for it to swing both ways.