Saturday, November 01, 2008

Empress' New Clothes

If Sarah Palin gets elected as the next Vice-President of the United States, then, it will certainly be a triumph of style over substance. Her election (if at all it does happen) to this second highest position in the US will underline the incredible power that a well-oiled PR machinery can generate. It will, basically, show that one can achieve absolutely anything with the help of a good hype generator.

I'm sure she has incredible talent and political skills that have moulded her to be what she is. Fact that she is a governor of a state and managed to defeat the incumbent from her own party does indicate that she does possess that certain something that ambitious politicians usually possess.

However, getting ahead of the game can be great politics, but it may not be sufficient for someone aspiring to be a leader of the most powerful country in the world. After all, in the worst case scenario that something should happen to McCain, she'd be just a heart-beat away from the Oval office.

So far her only powerful performance was at the Republican convention where she managed to electrify the base. I'm being generous when I say 'powerful' because her speech lacked wit, eloquence and depth. It was clever alright and full of smart one-liners but wasn't deep enough to convince the unconverted. Her subsequent speeches, debate performance and interviews were an embarrassment, and it's amazing how a respected political party could even select a person with such a shallow world view.

The US is going through one of the biggest economic crisis in its recent history, and for her to berate Joe Biden for even suggesting that paying taxes is the patriotic thing to do is the most absurd thing I've ever heard. Patriotism is not about one-liners alone but it's about sacrifices, and sacrifices are not the monopoly of the armed forces alone but must involve everyone who considers themselves to be citizens.

And then there's the question of presidential qualities that a person needs before even aspiring to be a political leader and potential statesman. It needs a broader world-view, an intellectual insight into contemporary issues and concerns, the wisdom to make the right judgments, and the ability to understand that gaining foreign policy know how is not just a matter of looking out of the window.

I was amazed at how Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson both managed to keep a straight face at the interview although I could detect a trace of a half formed smile on Couric's face while interviewing Palin. Her mumbled response to the economic crisis is something to be worried about - considering the situation we all are in - and if she does manage to become something that most people - surprisingly even a few Republicans - do not want her to be.

Now if Palin was somebody else, then, I'm sure she would have been skewered by people like Hannity and others from Fox News. But somehow she has been turned into a heroine, of sorts: hockey mom with lipstick. Her every fault has been 'justified' and 'excused' and her detractors are called 'sexist' or worse. Even basic questions like, asking why rape victims in her state were made to pay for rape kits or why did she toy with censorship as mayor of the town of Wasilla are not even considered worthy to be included in any analysis.

Somehow her supporters are trying to create this enormous myth around her - as an ordinary housewife thrown in extraordinary circumstances, and one who is blessed with the common touch enabling her to readily understand the situation everyone faces.

Perhaps it may have worked for a while, but am not sure if this hype has managed to retain its staying power. If Colin Powell and Lawrence Eagleburger's disenchantment is any indication, then, the Empress has certainly showed that she has no clothes. The GOP certainly gave this metaphorical state a more real dimension by paying a staggering $150,000 to dress her like a diva and not the ornery housewife that she must be to connect with the base.

But something in me feels that the Republican Party can't be that stupid to choose someone like her to be the vice-presidential nominee... its either a reckless decision by the maverick in chief or the party decided to set her up as the fall guy so that none of the establishment figures could be blamed if and when the party loses the elections.

But that's assuming that the party does lose the elections, and till then, the hype machine will be working overtime to ensure that she is propped up to be what she is not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Week From Now

In a week from now, the circus aka the US Elections will have ended and the tragi-comedy will once again begin its four year march to the next denouement.

It has been a very exciting journey so far even though - at times - it bordered on the near ludicrous. In fact, it even felt like watching an episode of Survivor: The White House, and at other times, a little bit like watching a really corny soap opera with its parade of stock characters.

But in a week from now, it will all be over and the debate will focus on the more pertinent question: what next? The ongoing economic crisis, the Iraq imbroglio and the Iranian nuclear puzzle will provide enough material for the president-elect to chew over, ponder and even look for real answers, if any.

So far, if the polls are any indication, it does look like Barack Obama will be the next occupant of the White House. But then, again, people talk of the Bradley effect, laziness of some Democrat supporters, and other 'surprises' that may sway the votes towards the McCain-Palin camp. So one should keep one's fingers crossed and hope for the best.

And therein lies the rub... who is the best after all? Or should we even bother measuring the candidates on some vague bestometer? This search for the best whatever has taken the discussion to some absurd levels.

For instance, the word 'elite' became such a bad word that suddenly ignorance, lack of education, absence of well-cultivated manners were seen as right qualifications for one of the world's toughest jobs. Joe the Plumber (who incidentally was not a plumber) and Hockey Moms became the ultimate brainiacs who are in 'touch' with the real world, and graduates from Ivy League were dismissed as irrelevant to the concerns of the common man.

Now at a certain level, there might be some truth to this railing against the elite but dismissing the elites as spent force and a disqualifier does come across as totally idiotic... and even scary. If lack of education and culture is seen as something to be proud of, then, its logical conclusion endorses a future society akin to this one.

And then, there is this over-excitement over polls.

Quite frankly, the only polls that matter are the ones on November 4th, but opinion polls have acquired a life of their own and no media pundit will be without one. We are told that polls indicate that Obama is leading but at the same time we are cautioned about the Bradley effect, which in retrospect, implies we need to take these polls with a pinch of salt. Of course, this begs the question: if one has to take it with a pinch of salt, then, why on earth are we discussing it in the first place.

But I guess they do indicate the pulse of the moment, and that seems to be beating to the tune of Obama.

All said and done, this is a historic election... and not just for the obvious reasons like either the first non-white President or the first female vice-president... the historicity of this election will also be a big burden on the next president who will have to juggle between being FDR and JFK. The economic crisis requires urgent attention to prevent a repetition of the Great Depression and some sort of a 'new deal' has to be created if the economic 'world' order is to be preserved. And then, again, the new President has to possess the kind of charisma that would inspire and engage everyone to work together for the common good and be filled with hope.

Now that's a tall order for anyone, but these are not ordinary times and the demand is such that nothing less will do. It's not just the US that awaits the outcome with bated breath, but the world at large, is desperate for a different kind of US leadership that does not follow the formulations of the last eight years but takes a chance at a much brighter vision.

Of course, the bigger question for those of us in the Middle East remains the same. Will the new leadership take concrete steps towards ensuring that the region is more peaceful, less war-torn and economically vibrant? Or will we see a return to deja vu?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Word Map



I don't know how far this image is a true indication of words I mostly use in my blog, but hey, that's the claim Wordle seems to be making. Having seen it in Sabbah's blog, I thought of trying it out and seeing for myself what it will uncover.

I guess I ought to be surprised at some of the words that appear in this 'map' because it never occurred to me earlier that these words had a significant presence in my writing. I wonder how many of us realise what words and, consequently, what thought processes actually guide our mental framework. It does provide a peek into the way we think and in what we think about... or as Christ put it: 'out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.'

This image is made possible by a java applet developed by Jonathan Feinberg of Wordle.net. It has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Explaining silence

It's been a while since I blogged, and it's not because I had nothing to say. In fact, I got a dozen or more unfinished posts just waiting for my finishing touch. So basically there have been stuff that I've been wanting to post but, for some reason or the other, I did not do so.

Interestingly, a few months ago I said exactly the same thing after a similarly long spell of blog-silence. I wonder if this post will, once again, precede another long spell of blog-silence. I don't know which way my blogging will go, but one thing is certain... I'm not quitting. Once a blogger, always a blogger. Once you're in it, you can't get out. OK. That was being a little dramatic but you know what I mean.

But then there is such a thing as 'real life' with its many demands like deadlines and deadlines and more deadlines. So what does one do after a few sleepless nights writing a brochure or a corporate film? No points for guessing... the zzzzz song, of course.

On the other hand, there are times when one wonders if blogging stuff achieves anything of value. Does it make any difference to anyone what one writes here? Is it a colossal waste of time disguised as 'making a difference'?

I wish I have some answers to these questions, and frankly, I don't.

However, these questions apply not only to blogging but to other forms of writing as well. Journalism - that self appointed doyen of responsible writing, suffers from this malady (or rather, is supposed to be). Similar questions are raised about poetry, short stories, essays and novels as well. There are people who'd insist that enthusiasm over an iambic pentameter is just way too frivolous and elitist and that people are better off pondering over water filtration devices instead.

So it all boils down to... value, and the struggle to define what constitutes a value added activity and what should be clearly regarded as a glorified waste of time. The eternal battle between the idealists and the pragmatists. The battle for space that no one wants to abdicate that easily.

Frankly, I don't know whether blogging accomplishes anything or for that matter I don't know even know if any of these words will touch a soul and move a mountain. But as a writer I realise that's not for me to worry about. My responsibility ends the moment I finish writing and then whatever I write assumes a life all its own. Readers - if there be such entities - will respond the way they wish to. They may love it, hate it, be inspired by it, be repulsed by it or be totally indifferent to the point of not caring what's written. That should not be my problem.

What I should do is, simply, write when I feel the urge to say something. Silence is never an option when a thought requires articulation. The choice is mine. Either I listen to my inner muse and write or I just throttle that urge and silence the storm.

Question is, will I do what I must or just continue doing things the way they are?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What makes a good 'abuse'?

Now that's a question I never thought I'd actually try and answer in my blog. It's not as if the question never crossed my mind before, but hey, there are certain things that make us chuckle, we leave it at that and then think of something else.

It would have been left at that if not for a very interesting post on Shakespeare & Company (S&C), a writers group on ryze.com, a business network.

The post was something of a writing exercise and the subject header was titled 'inventing new abuses' and asked S&C members to come up with a range of strong (but NOT obscene and NOT to do with an act - which, let's face it - is reproductive in nature and has the capacity to be sublime) abuses which are gender-specific, but from a woman's perspective?

I thought that was a very interesting topic for a discussion on a writers group, of all places. A good abuse, if one can call it that, usually brings out the very best in metaphors, similes and oxymorons, which have always been - let's face it - the sole preserve of writers. Those who abuse on a daily basis hardly spend time admiring the linguistic and stylistic richness of what they utter. To them these are words that need to be flung at, and if the words achieve their objective, fine, and if not, oh well, there are always other words that could be unleashed.

As a warm up, take a look at this video that sheds an entirely new perspective on the "F" word. It's quite funny because it shows how the "F" word can be used in a variety of ways while still managing to retain its punch. And yet, something about the video makes us smile because it rings a bell. A connection is established because we can identify with what's being said. Our irreverent side is immediately tickled and we find something familiar and accessible in the profane.

Now let's hold on to that thought for a while. The "F" word, as we all know, denotes a sexual act but when we use the word we don't usually think about that... do we?

I find it incredibly intriguing that in almost all cultures... please note 'almost all' and not 'all'... abuses tend to have sexual overtones and undertones as far as their favourite choicest phrases are concerned. It's like sex is fair game for a phrase or a noun or a verb. I often wonder why the entire realm of sexuality is seen to be easy picking for 'bad words'.

Maybe this is where the word 'abuse' comes into play... the wrong or incorrect usage that transforms a 'use' into 'abuse'. But it still raises the question: why sex of all things?

Most choice words revolve around suggestions of incest, illegitimacy, and a few organs (that's how subtle I'm going to get here) ... these words in themselves should rightfully invoke pity or nothing at all, but in most languages (or at least the ones I'm familiar with), they are so spiced up that they no longer retain their original meaning but acquire a naughtier edge.

In patriarchal cultures, abusive words are used against those who violate a woman's honour and consequently, the 'family honour', as if the two go together. A man can do anything sexually but the family honour is never taken into consideration, but that's another topic altogether.

I suppose, it is for this reason that in such societies and cultures the most common 'abuses' are coined with a totally male perspective because it is 'man' who is supposed to use them. Women are simply expected to continue being a bunch of helpless creatures eternally grateful for the protection they receive from male members of their society. But to even suggest giving these abuses a neutral perspective would be tantamount to emasculating a gun. Now which hardy male from a ruggedly patriarchal society will allow that to happen?

In a way, it would be interesting to see how the same dynamics could be pulled out from their male template, turned around, and given a feminine slant. Will it work? Will it be effective enough? Will it carry a punch? Or will it serve no other purpose apart from providing fuel to ones creative glands?

One would assume - going by the rules of patriarchy - that women won't be able to come up with abuses because they are expected to be more 'motherly' and have a 'nurturing' spirit within them. Men, on the other hand, are the cavemen who 'shoot first and talk later'. Hence, the ground rules have already been laid out. Men are the attack machines and women are the ones who sing the lullabys.

Of course, reality is something else.

As Shakespeare said, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'... so going by that dictum, one would speculate that part of this fury would involve 'language' and 'phrases', and yes, 'strong' ones at that. After all, the tongue is a mightier weapon than a fist and phrases provide necessary ammunition for any verbal blitzkreig.

So perhaps, if women are such furious creatures then it's safe to assume that they always had in them to come up with creative and STRONG 'abuses' but patriarchy chose to sideline women, push them into a corner, and silence them so that no one could ever hear their 'scream'. I suppose there is also an element of convenience since allowing women the freedom and the space to use language so creatively and colourfully would basically force men to recognise women as their equals in the machismo sweepstakes and compel them to surrender their dominance. The solution to this problem was quite simple. All that had to be done was to honour women as symbols of purity and goodness. It was necessary to deify them as the first step in silencing their scream because 'saints' are not expected to lash out.

But while this may be the case with the gender equation (or lack of it), I'm equally intrigued to know why sex finds itself comfortably placed in the abuse vocabulary... what is it about sex that makes it so easy for both men and women to find in it a rich reservoir of inspiration for all of their 'abusing' needs?

Is it fear of what sex is all about that compels people to use phrases borrowed from 'sexual acts' or 'conditions' or 'consequences'? Or is there a deeper issue here that needs careful analysis?

Most fundamentalists, for instance, pick on sex as their pet peeve while coolly ignoring other fundamentals of their faith - theological issues, caring for the poor, etc. It's almost as if 'sex' can only be included in public discourse either as an abuse or as a moral offence, but never for itself.

I'm not sure if patriarchy alone is the problem, but it's more to do with 'denial', I think. We are 'gregarious creatures' who are 'made to live within communities', which means, we are not meant to be alone. Modern culture has been pushing people inwards and making it increasingly hard for physical contact to take place. Taken at its extreme, one can live comfortably without being in close physical proximity to anyone... you could even order food and grocery over the net!

Modern culture also worships 'self made individuals' and a myth is gradually built around empowering people with 'a sense of autonomy' so that they are brain washed into thinking that being 'self made' is all that it takes to be a success.

Hence, sex comes up as a completely contradictory force to the prevailing ideology because sex, by its very definition and act, involves the inclusion of another person into our physical space. It rejects the notion that one can depend on oneself alone for the experience of pure pleasure. Sex involves another person to make it complete. Masturbation is not the answer because it is a deception since it only attempts to replicate something that is basically meant to be enjoyed by two people.

I don't know if there is a certain fear involved in letting people in to our physical space, or if there is some deep seated revulsion towards this very idea... I don't know if this very act of denying the existence of this fear makes people go the other extreme. That is, to articulate the same ideas but in the form of abuses... hoping that it would demonstrate that one is not actually ignoring the topic but is able to blurt out without any 'hangups'.

Abuses with a sexual slant, hence, are a way of saying things without actually saying them.

Maybe it is this act of being cool while being in denial at the same time which is responsible for pushing abuses into a whole different realm.

So are they purely male oriented? As long as men have the sole monopoly over the cultural narrative, yes, it will remain male oriented; but am sure, even if women take their rightful space, the focus will remain just the same.

This is because the denial that I'm talking about is not a male problem or a woman problem, but it is a human epidemic that has been going on for years and years. We are not going to address it ever because doing so will force us to confront our deepest fears and that is something no one will ever do. We are never going to entertain the idea of, or even, the possibility of being 'chronically untouched' and that modern life and modern technology could be responsible for it. Sex, we are told, is the magic potion that could rectify this anomaly and yet we avoid any serious discussion because it might just open up our vulnerabilities for the world to see.

So what's our standard response?

Well, most of us simply smile it off, and if that's not possible, then, we just say, 'just f*** it'.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Austrian Horror

It's a while since I blogged and though I wanted to write about so many issues, but for some reason, I didn't. I won't get into all those reasons now but perhaps I'll do so in some other post. However, after pondering over what this Austrian man did to his children I felt that I just had to blurt out something that would make sense... maybe not to the world at large but, at least, to myself. What a shame it took such a horrible event to pull me out of my blog-limbo.

I've always been against 'capital punishment' because I am 'pro-life' all the way, but when I read this story I just wanted to say, go hang him or send him to Abu Ghraib or wherever and let him rot.

I just can't seem to understand what must have driven him to do all that he did. I know it makes no sense to try and find a rationale because there just can't be one. Crazy example, I know, but even serial killers have a pathetic background that drives them to a life of senseless rampage. Not that I'm justifying serial killers, but yes, I'm trying hard.

But where this man is concerned, all I feel is utter disgust and my dark side would be only too glad to get a little 'expressive'. All I see in him is utter evil and the smug look on his face only heightens the horror and revulsion I feel towards him. How could a 'dad' be such a bastard?

I guess, such people challenge our deepest beliefs and faith systems. I do believe in the power of the cross to forgive the most hardened sinners and bring them to repentance. So if I believe that to be the gospel truth, then going by that statement, logically, it should certainly include this Austrian man, too... but can he repent? and if he does, then, shouldn't I overlook his offence and be more merciful? Personally, I'd like to see him hanged but that would defeat the very purpose for my not wanting people to get hanged... it would prevent the possibility of a change of heart in this man.

Then there is the question of his children, why did they have to go through all this?

I suppose there aren't any easy answers available, but let's face it, the more we read about this story, we are faced with many more questions than answers.

Where were the neighbours? Didn't they notice something odd was going on in this house? Were they so indifferent that they didn't care about the scars and the frequent pregnancies? How come no one bothered to check with the social service? And what about the mother? What was she doing when this was going on? Why did she just accept his word blindly? Wasn't she curious to know how - and from where - her husband was getting these babies into the house? Or did she know about it and was too embarassed and ashamed to admit that her husband and the father of her own daughter could do such a thing?

Curiosity is often considered a liability in social interactions, but I wish at least in this case, people had tried to be more curious and nosey. Maybe it would have lessened the horror. Maybe it would have stopped things from going the way they did. Maybe the story would have had a different ending.

Who knows?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

the late Arthur C Clarke

through his words, space became an odyssey,
through his deeds, satellites began to communicate

remembering the late great arthur c. clarke
who died in the land of serendip, a comma of an island
in an ocean of turmoil

will monoliths still puzzle us now?
will computers still terrify our journeys?
will apes learn new techniques of warfare?

the answers will have to wait
because the questioner has finally

been silenced.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Mythical Thali

In my last post, I touched upon the subject of myths and how the media plays a role in preserving and perpetuating them. Of course, I was talking about it specifically in the Indian context, or rather, in the variety of impressions and perceptions that I am gathering as an expat Indian visitor making a trip to the country after a long time. I am classifying some of these impressions as part of a gigantic myth and, in the process, attempting to understand why various forces within the country find myths useful to perpetuate their pet ideas, and basically, to make sense of everything that was swirling around me during the trip.

So in that sense there is a very narrow perspective involved here even though the subject of myths itself requires a much broader discussion. And that’s where the crunch lies and the challenge for any writer, therefore, is quite simple: how to elevate this specific matter into something that’s wider and more general?

I'm trying to be cautious even though I needn’t be so because India’s economic resurgence is neither mythical nor unreal. I should know. Last month my investment manager at Zurich International told me that I lost nearly $ 20,000 for not transferring my funds to the more active Brazil-China-India funds when he had asked me to nearly two years ago. For some odd reason I remained faithful to the North American funds and, well, less said the better.

Before defining the term "mythology" one needs to define the meaning of the word "myth". The word itself comes from the Greek "mythos" which originally meant "speech" or "discourse" but which later came to mean "fable" or "legend"... For our purposes the word mythology has two related meanings. Firstly it refers to a collection of myths that together form a mythological system. Thus one can speak of "Egyptian Mythology", "Indian Mythology", "Maori Mythology" or "Greek Mythology". In this sense one is describing a system of myths, which were used by a particular society at some particular time in human history. It is also possible to group mythologies in other ways. For example one can group them geographically and then speak of "Oceanic Mythology", "Oriental Mythology" and "African Mythology"... Broadly speaking myths and mythologies seek to rationalize and explain the universe and all that is in it. Thus, they have a similar function to science, theology, religion and history in modern societies. Systems of myths have provided a cosmological and historical framework for societies that have lacked the more sophisticated knowledge provided by modern science and historical investigation.

(Source: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mythology.html)

I am using this definition as a kind of reference point for our discussion. There are many other definitions, too, but incorporating most of them here is beyond the scope of this essay. Maybe someday when and if I decide to expand this essay into something bigger I might do just that but not now. Myths, as this writer says, enable us to rationalise and explain the universe and all that is in it, and that the word is derived from the Greek "mythos" meaning "speech" or "discourse." Interesting points to consider when one realises that myths can work as effective templates in understanding reality and in providing some sort of context to what we see and experience all around us. In fact, they are regarded as necessary tools in influencing and manipulating public opinion in some way or the other.

Throughout history, words, images and sound (music, song or the ululating cries of tribal folks) have played a central role in the development of different myths. Some religions have used icons rather creatively to define their worldview (in the here and hereafter) whereas religions that are iconoclastic in nature have substituted images with words to do the very same thing.

Religion is not the only preserve of myths because, to cite one example, if one looks closely at the 'great American dream', it is a myth that has drawn thousands of immigrants to that great nation and still draws many to its shores. It would be interesting to examine the role of Hollywood, corporate America and that of different American authors in defining and adding colour to this myth. As a result, America is more than just a country with defined political and geographic borders, but an idea that attracts some and repulses others. People respond to that idea of what the nation represents and not necessarily to the reality of the country. This, in short, is the power of myths because it sets the agenda for our perceptions and decides how we are going to examine an entity.

The Great Indian Myth is not any different. However, there is not one all-encompassing myth that would define India but there are multitude of myths that jostle together for our attention in order to occupy our mental space. The amazing thing is that despite being so many they do not contradict themselves even though, at a certain level, they may appear as a bunch of paradoxes clubbed together. Perhaps it would be a mistake to assume that a single idea could easily explain a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-national country like India. Maybe it's not in the answer we get but in the question we ask that some sort of explanation might trickle in.

Let's look at the city of Bombay as an example. It has one of the world's most expensive real estate markets. It has some of the world's richest people living and working here. It has Bollywood, one of the world's most successful film industries. It is one of the most cosmopolitan Indian cities where you can find people from all over the country. It is the preferred city for multinationals and blue chip companies who enjoy the buzz the city gives. It has some of the swankiest malls, expensive restaurants, pricey five star hotels, and is a paradise for consumers from all income backgrounds. If there is any city that would define the new India, then, Bombay would be up there in that list.

Now going back to the subject of myths, Bombay provides the tools to define a more progressive, prosperous and successful India. In fact, for all of the reasons above, Bombay has been a magnet to people from all over the country because of the idea that one can become rich in this city if one simply works hard enough. In this sense, it closely parallels the 'great American dream' because it draws upon the same aspirational values that are constantly fed by the media and sustained by anecdotes shared by its residents.

While this myth of Bombay as some sort of an El Dorado might hold true because of the examples given above, the opposite scenario is true as well. Bombay has Asia's largest slum where people live in horrible conditions. It has some of the world's poorest people trying to eke out a living and finding it hard to do so. It is the headquarters of Shiv Sena, one of India's most regressive, xenophobic and fundamentalist political parties that does not recognise and appreciate Bombay's cosmopolitan nature. It is a city that has survived religious and communal riots that have, often, threatened to unravel its delicate social structure. It is, also, a city that has bred some of the most dangerous underworld goons whose reach extends beyond India.

This is the other Bombay that provides the template to view India as a third world nation infested with crime, disease, poverty and illiteracy. For those fed on the myth of a poor India, these images offer a necessary rationale for their perception, and the available evidence will only serve to make a compelling argument.

Now which perception is the true one? Bombay as a rich city with rich people that could pass off as a first world city, or the other Bombay that is poor, dirty, messy and full of illiterate people? Of course, both are true and yet either of the two can't be passed off as a definitive reality. This paradox is not a contradiction but expresses the complex nature of a city and a country that accommodates a billion people with that many preferences, predilections and perceptions.

This rich tapestry of contrasting images helps in constructing the Great Indian Myth: that of a nation of contradictions, diversity, want, despair and opportunities. But when it comes to actual definitions and depictions, this Myth is imagined according to individual preferences and through goals one has set for the future. Thus, those who have a stake in India as a future economic superpower will preserve and perpetuate the myth of a resurgent economy and focus only on its technological strengths, applaud all of its technocrats, salute unbridled consumerism and praise its business leaders. The media will, of course, lend a helping hand by tilting images in its news and entertainment programmes that suggest this perception to be the real one. The same will be done by those who see only the other India, and will use whatever myth making tools available at their disposal to project this myth.

Of course, in this competitive battleground the casualty is always the truth. No one wants to get hold of a well-rounded image that captures the essential reality because the stakes are very high to preserve the perceptions they hold dear. The challenge is to go beyond the myths and images and perceptions, and get a view-point that is not acquired from different sources but experienced first-hand. This would involve walking the streets, riding the trains, talking to real people and listening to their heart-beat. This is where the real India lies, and this India is hidden behind the myths propped up by different stake holders.

Question is, will we take the trouble to dirty the soles of our shoes and find out for ourselves, or will we just allow others to inform us what the country is all about?

Thali: The word essentially means a plate but in many Indian restaurants it is often understood to be a lunch or dinner platter. Vegetarian restaurants offer a variety of dishes in their thali or platter, and it's quite popular.