Sunday, October 16, 2011

A tribute to awesomeness

It has been a rather tragic last month. Steve Jobs, Jagjit Singh and Dennis Ritchie (no, not Denise Richards) all dead. A lot has been written and said about their deaths - and they were the numero uno in their respective fields. For me personally, however, none of these deaths has had a very specific impact. I have never used Apple except for the Ipod Nano - and I am pretty happy to own it, but I was as happy with the Creative MP3 player I had before. I do not quite understand the aesthetics which make Apple products in general, and Steve Jobs in particular, such a rage everywhere. I think the loss of Jagjit Singh is a pretty big loss to the Ghazal world, but my Ghazal period is well past me now, and I do not think I was going to try any of his newer ghazals were they to come out. About Dennis Ritchie, I had no idea who he was until he died. I recoiled in horror when I thought that Denise Richards had died though, for who can get bored of that amazing Wild Things scene. And the less said of my programming skills the better.
But what cannot be denied is that the world is three amazing men short, and in today's world, where amazing people are hard to come by, it is a tragedy of the highest order.
In spite of all these tragedies abounding the world, the most tragic event in the previous month for me has been the decision of REM to call it a day.

I am by no means a passionate fan, for passion, as long term readers of this blog will testify, is not something I associate myself with. Even though REM is my favourite band, or so I like telling people, there are some songs I absolutely hate. How can anyone get through Shiny Happy People, Lotus or Swan Swan is beyond me. On the other hand, I love all songs of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who or Dire Straits, to name some of the other bands I like. But my favourite band, I hasten to add, is still REM.

Perhaps its for reasons more than the music. I do not understand music to be very honest. I listen to music a lot, but I am unable to rate music as good or bad. In other words, I am not really able to appreciate music. I have never been really to appreciate AR Rehman or the music of Dev D for example. The only instrumentals I have ever been able to like are the Fifth Symphony, Jessica and the Doors' Symphony. I also have problem making my Ipod listing, for what I like is a function of external factors, and my mood.

But I digress. Had I been able to appreciate music I might have said that Buck is the god of guitar or something. Or that Stipes' vocals are what make him one of the underrated singers of our generation. Or that the reason for REM's success is that the whole is much greater than the sum of four talented - but not genius- musicians from Athens, Georgia. But I can make none of those claims. I can only claim that I love REM, and because music is not the reason I do it for, I can only hypothesize about the why of it.

I appreciate REM for the kind of legacy they have made in the industry, being totally independent, and still managing to make it big. I also appreciate their strong anti-right wing views. But those are just add on features - not enough to make them my favourite.

I probably like REM because it is a sad band. Just like me. They do a lot of happy songs, but inherently their greatest hits have been songs about losing or trying to find - feelings I can so well connect with, about being lonely in the company of people, about finding and losing love. In short, most of REM songs, I feel, are about me. I am a lot like the protoganist in a lot of REM songs, confused, but trying to find a way. He is not perfect, and there is something he is seeking, and the songs are about the journey.

Why is the band not more popular, I hear the skeptics among you say. It is because people do not know much beyond Losing My Religion when it comes to REM. So here is a list, one that you must listen to - a song of my favourite REM songs in no particular order:

a) Nightswimming - My first REM song, and one that hooked me instantly. Its a song about longing, probably about going back to one's childhood. About how, after a long hard day, all you ever want is to be a child again, and enjoy nightswimming, like years ago. Its also, at the same time, a song about lost love, and being betrayed. Or atleast that is what I think.
b) Ignoreland - A pure vitriol filled, right wing bashing political song. And one, which should become the anthem for anti-right forces come the 2014 elections. The way it starts "These bastards stole power from the victims of the us v. them years" is a precursor to how the right wing might emerge back into power, creating issues that were never there.
c) Find the River - These lyrics do not make any sense when you look at it. However, once you start appreciating Stipe's writing genius, you will probably recognize this song to be about starting a search to find the meaning of your life. It is a tough quest, but the protagonist is about to make that journey.
d) Everybody Hurts - What more can I say? A song that helped me through the darkest time of my life, and which nursed me back to good things. If there was one song that a man committing suicide should listen to, it is this.
e) At my most beautiful - Another example of REM awesomeness. A sweet love song, about how love makes you feel so good about yourself.
f) Strange Currencies - A song about unrequited love, and its truly amazing. I have been in the unrequited love stage a few times, and have researched bits about songs, and this is top of the heap, so take my word for it.
g) My Crush with Eyeliner - About proposing. About how to get a girl to like you. Sweet.
h) I've been High - Sample lyrics: "I've been high, but life, it still washes over me." "All I want, all I really want, is to live my life on a high". Need I say anything more? If you have been high, and disappointed even at that high state, this is the song for you. Legendary.
i) Whats the Frequency Kenneth - A middle class refrain to the youth. I can agree, after visiting places like TC, and seeing these 20 year old acting as if they own the world.
j) Losing My Religion - The most famous REM song by a distance. A song, again of unrequited love.
k) Electrolite - Ever felt like being totally alone and on the top of the world? This song captures that feeling.
l) Don't go back to Rockville - Replace Rockville with the required city name, and this song shall become the kind of song you will sing for someone who is leaving you and you run to the airport to ask them to get back. The kind of thing Ross does for Rachel, or the kind of foolish thing I have done.
m) Be Mine - A stalker song. But pretty sweet and corny.

I could go on and on, but this list should do for now. And when you are done, could you be cool enough to comment on your opinions about the band and the songs you listened to?

And yeah, thanks REM. I owe you a big one.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Open Letter to Mr. Manmohan Singh

I am pretty sure that you, being the Prime Minister of India do not read random open letters that people write to you. Instead, I believe that you, sir, heading the government in the largest democracy, are often hard pressed for time. Your job is not an advertisement for work-life balance for sure, and I do not think that you get time to even stumble upon social media. Unlike the man who could never be the Prime Minister.

It is pretty well established, then, that you would not be reading this letter. However, writing this helps me vent my frustration out. Moreover, on a slightly more selfish note, writing an open letter to you also gets potential new visitors to this blog. Nothing really succeeds like an idea whose time has come – and the latest idea doing the rounds in social media is about abusing the government and everyone related to the ruling Congress Party.

Sir, it is a good thing you are not exactly social media savvy. For if you were, you would not like what you would see. (Hell, even I do not like what I see in my Facebook feeds). You see, my Facebook feed is full of inglorious stories about Congress Party in general, and Mrs. G in particular. A latest story going about in Facebook has even hinted at the possibility of Mrs. G using her body to earn money when she was in England. I assume it is part of a campaign to malign the Gandhi family, but the attempt has definitely become a hit in the social media. And everytime I log into Facebook (which is like, every 10 minutes), the story has been shared by one more friend. Even you are not spared sir, and people insist jokes like “My phone is in Manmohan mode, because I am in a meeting” are more a reflection of truth that humour.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! I still remember the day when you had written a glorious chapter in the 5000 year old history of India on 24th July 1991 in your Budget speech, heralding in an era of globalization and liberalization in the Indian economy. And subconsciously, creating a whole new generation – a generation that till then had grown up on Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana and which then found solace in Nirvana and Pearl Jam videos on MTV. This was the confused generation, a generation brought up on traditional Indian values, but one which was strongly impacted by the cable TV and other symbols of globalization and liberalisation. While we marvel at the completely Westernized lifestyle the generation below us has adapted itself to, we are also caught up with traditional notions of morality and ethics. And so for all practical purposes, we as a generation are screwed.

But today, this generation has suddenly decided to remove the cloaks of confusion that has bound it, and risen almost as one: Against you and your government as it were. At least in social media, where it is easy to protest, and does not cost much. You have suddenly fallen from being the man who heralded the economic revolution in India to a puppet who is dancing to “Master of Puppets” by Mrs. G. The amount of hatred in social media against your government as expressed through the social media was manifested during the Anna Hazare campaign. The slogans that were raised, comparing Cabinet ministers to animals and Mrs. G to mother of a corrupt government, just spoke of the disillusionment of the people with the government.

Yes I know only 50000 entered the Ram Lila Grounds, but if the Facebook and twitter movements are anything to go by, it was a mass middle class movement -the same middle class, which saw unprecedented opportunities for growth after your 24th July speech. Along with a confused generation, you had also spawned a Frankenstein - a new middle class, which after years of tolerating the License Raj, now wanted everything at their own terms. When the Congress surprisingly – and let us admit it was surprising even to you – ended up as the single biggest party in 2004 general elections, and you were selected by Mrs. G as the Prime Minister, India saw a new ray of hope. Finally, an honest, clean and secular government was what most people thought. While your first five years did not really set the pulses rising, you blamed everything on the “constraints of coalition politics.” And people believed you, gauged you deserved a second chance and returned the Congress Party with its highest tally since 1991. The decision to return you to power has proved to be about as right as making Senator Palpatine the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic in Star Wars. Or so the social media sites would have one believe. Your government is being portrayed as a collection of evil Jedis, and you as the unwilling Darth Vader. Mrs G, as you might have guessed, is the emperor.

Honestly, people are fed up. There have been scams and more scams. It is not the first time that scams have occurred, but with the advent of Facebook and twitter, people who can express their frustrations at the prevalent corruption are doing it. Ironically, it is that generation that you helped create and the middle class whose dreams you fostered, who are at the forefront of the revolution. They want to see India as a superpower – a country with unlimited potential, which however is being brought down by the various corruption activities, of which the government has been unable to absolve itself. Corruption has become a big issue for everyone and will be the single biggest reason of the return to power of BJP. Unless you clean up the house that is, and take full responsibility for the actions of your cabinet colleagues. Become the master of puppets for once.

I personally do not care much about corruption, and there are good points to be made in favour of corruption as well. However, I believe that the inability of your government to check corruption is giving rise to a new kind of emotion among people – the portrayal of Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. The social media is enthused about Narendra Modi’s success in transforming Gujarat. How Gujarat has managed 11% growth, and how the state is virtually corruption free. (Though, from what I hear, there are many places where alcohol is available). And a lot of my facebook friends gush about how good a candidate Narendra Modi would make. In short, Narendra Modi has captured the fantasy of the social network. To use the Star Wars analogy, Narendra Modi is Luke Skywalker – atleast for the social media.

The more you remain silent about the whole issues that your government faces, the more Opposition claims that you are a weak PM seem true. And the more Narendra Modi gains credibility. Just like Hitler did back in the early 30s. The difference being that while Hitler’s campaign was aimed at German nationalism and the rallying point was the disarmament of the German army, Modi’s would be corruption plaguing the central government. And unless you set the house in order sir, just like in Germany, a wave will start here in India, which might be difficult to contain. Like Hitler, Modi is a brilliant orator and is able to control the public perception through careful propaganda, but I do not think the similarities end here. All I would like to say, Modi as PM could be the gravest challenge that India has ever in its long history.

If that were to happen, Mr. Manmohan Singh, India would never forgive you.