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Shiv Visvanathan
Tuesday , May 15, 2012

The Aamir way versus the Anna way


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Democracy is always inventive, exploiting mediums to create fresh theatre. It seems to create new sites for protest, new forms of dialogue, and new ways of storytelling. Two recent attempts, in particular, provide an invitation to comparison. The double spectacle of Aamir/Anna deserves an analysis. Aamir and Anna are two kinds of socio-drama. Both are spectacles, both thrive on huge audiences. Both take the most mundane of problems and create events around it. Both fight the crime of silence, one around corruption, the other around foeticide and child abuse. Both create larger than life stories around these events. Both are pieces of theatre whose meaning goes beyond the event. The beauty is they seem to telescope into each other; two age sets defining the nature of Indian society. One begins with the family, the other with society and both move to the question of values. One talks of....


Monday , September 19, 2011

The fast as politics


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Narendra Modi's fast is the most misunderstood event of the year. This essay would like to argue that the fast has little connection with the closure of the riots but is an attempt to inaugurate a new era in politics. There is an old saying that when the vulture is tired of old food, it goes on a fast. A fast here is not a statement of contrition, it is an interlude to a new era. Modi is not signalling turnover or a turn around. He is virtually claiming that he is ready for a new kind of politics. His fast has to be read twice, first, as a ritual of renouncing food, second as a signal of a new transition. The second has to be developed first because we often get caught in the idiosyncrasies of the person rather than the changing nature of the social systems. ....


Friday , September 16, 2011

Fast forwarding Moditva


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Narendra Modi is always in the news but news about Modi is always read differently by different people. The facts looked simple. The Supreme Court after reading the SIT report and the report of the Amicus Curae decided that proceedings would continue at the district court. The Court appears to have answered questions of law, providing technical answer to technical questions. For the court, the issue seems to have been procedural. As long as law moves on the right ralls at a specified pace, the Supreme Court feels it should not interfere. Both the Raghavan and Ramachandran Reports have been handed over to the magistrate. The decision is neither a condemnation of Modi nor a character certificate. All it emeplified was the banal normalcy of law evaluating its own correctness so that one day truth and justice may prevail. As long as the mechanism of....


Tuesday , August 09, 2011

Pickling Gandhi and Tagore


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Years ago, when Charlie Chaplin left the classic world of the silent movie and produced a "talkie" film, the "Countess from Hongkong", Time responded ruthlessly. It said the movie was pickled in the formaldehyde of the thirties. Not even the presence of Sophia Loren could save the film. Sometimes when one thinks of the recent attempts to receive Gandhi and Tagore, one thinks of a similar comment. Think of Gandhi first. One cannot think of a single interesting book on him published recently. For debate, for the drama of scholarship, one has to go back to Bhikhu Parekh or Ashis Nandy. There is little that current scholarship can offer. A wag once responded that Gandhi is a pickle, we seek to preserve him. We believe by museumizing Gandhi and pickling him, we can retain the verve, the character, the fire of the man. One has to outline a....


Monday , July 18, 2011

Colours of indifference


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There is an unfairness to news we must recognize. A murder in Coimbatore, no matter how dramatic, loses in intensity to a bomb blast in Mumbai. The second is more dramatic, more collective and more historical than the story of a 26-year-old painter called Santosh, murdered in broad daylight. What marked him for history was not the murder which could conscript a few inches of newspaper space but the fact that it was caught on film. It became a spectacle. A spectacle demands attention and analysis, while a silent crime would have faded easily. What horrified people who watched the film was not the crime, but the indifference; the silence of those who watched. The murder of Santosh was brutal and blatant. A man cycling quietly is brought down and bashed to death by three assailants, all of whom allegedly belong to a criminal gang. Santosh slumps and the....


Friday , June 10, 2011

M F Husain: The Art of Controversy


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Controversies in India fail to have endings. It is not just that they are incomplete in terms of resolutions, they convey a sense of perpetual danger and hurt. Partly this is because they eat into the core of one's being, partly because controversies become Manichean dramas creating demonologies which allow no resolution. Maqbool Fida Husain who died in London was such a controversial man. When asked whether he wished to apologize for the controversies he created, Husain said he acted out of faith and conviction. If in that process, he hurt someone, he was sorry for it. Sadly a lot of his audience was unforgiving. They might have been art lovers but they definitely had no sympathy for Husain. I remember Ravi Ravi Shanker claiming he was insensitive, painting Gods in the nude. The swamiji felt such an act was unacceptable and challenged Husain to show the....


Monday , June 06, 2011

Listening to Ramdev


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Swami Ramdev may have jumped off the podium but is still news. Many of my friends see him as a threat to democracy arguing he is harassing an elected government. They see him as de-politizing the country with quack medicines for real problems. Others with a more conspiratorial view read him as a Rasputin, less sinister because he has shades of a clown, a village idiot. They are worried about his rustic populism which makes a hash of our more urbane secular categories. Others more liberal see him as comic book stuff. Crudely put, it is like watching a Bhojpuri movie with English subtitles. It will appear boisterous and crude. By focusing too much on the man, we lose the sociology behind him. To say he is a Yadav, a Kisan's son, A Yogi from Haryana is not saying enough. This is a sociology of convenience. We think we....


Friday , May 20, 2011

Waging War, Cooking Peace


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His Holiness the Dalai Lama once commented on George Bush by saying, "He brings out the Muslim in me." Put with all the delicacy and humor of the Tibetan monk, it was still a devastating observation. Beyond empathy for Islam, what the Dalai Lama was claiming was that Bush's behaviour, his treatment of Islam and the Muslim was unfair, untrue and almost barbaric. Watching the recent plight of Pakistan, a country corroded by the Americans and devastated by its own military, I am tempted to say, the trouble in Pakistan brings out the Pakistani in me. For an Indian to say it, sounds at first sight, discordant and disloyal. But on reflection, I think only an Indian can, should, will and must say it. Our media has been shrill and silly about Pakistan. I can understand its angst against a rogue state, a military regime which was always....


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More about Shiv Visvanathan

Shiv Visvanathan is one of India's leading sociologists. He currently teaches at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology.

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