‘When Law is Lawlessness’ on Kashmir Times

Happy to see my blog post ‘When Law is Lawlessness’ on the injustice of law (droit) published on Kashmir Times. These ideas can be explored particularly in relation to the ongoing horrors inflicted by the Indian State in Kashmir. You can access the full article here.

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From the Largest Democracy in the World: [Live] Notes from Counting Day

Part 2 of 2019 Lok Sabha Elections Blog Series: Quick impressions from Counting [read Judgement] Day

Note: Counting seems to be nearing the end, but not quite. So these are numbers as of 6:30pm, May 23.

2014:

NDA: 336 seats
BJP: 282 ; 31% vote share

UPA: 60
Congress: 44 ; 19.3% vote share

2019:
NDA: 346
BJP: 298 (+16 seats from 2014)

UPA: 90
Congress: 52 (+8 from 2014)

. . .

  • It is evident BJP+ has made a sweeping majority, much to our grievance. BJP has in fact got 16-18 more seats in Parliament since 2014. Majority is an important word. Because from this ‘democracy’ we will see the continual of majoritarian politics.
  • Most Exit Polls underplayed the extent of victory. The exit poll Today’s Chanakya has been almost accurate with 350 seat prediction for BJP+
    News18 comes next with their prediction of 336.
  • I added 30 seats to the NDTV Poll of Polls, taking in the underplay factor, which made it to 332 for BJP+
    They have fared even better as we can see from the final results above.

Moving on to states

  • In spite of a high turn out of about 67% the victory margin is huge. In Prannoy Roy’s The Verdict: Decoding India’s Election, he states that the BJP tends to have a low margin victory when the turn out is high, and vice-versa. These results then clearly showcase the mood of the nation. The moral compass of the nation is completely off the mark. Hate prevailed this election. (You have to tell it like it is, however painful.)
  • In fact the final results have fared better for BJP+ than the Exit Polls predicted.
    For instance, there has been a near total sweep in Madhya Pradesh. Exit Polls tallied: 24 for BJP+ and 5 for UPA+
    Final result: 28 for BJP+ and 1 for UPA+
    You can see this in many other states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, Telangana to name a few.
  • I am trying to look out for the ‘Winner’s Bump’, where nearing the end of counting, the winner gets an additional boost of seats. As of now BJP+ has risen to 349 in the passed half an hour.
  • The results are not radically different from 2014; it is still a major sweep, and a slightly better one at that. Even though BJP lost a few seats to the Gathbandan, it has made inroads into West Bengal and Odisha. However, BJD of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha has held up. Another victory for the BJP in UP is the loss of Rahul Gandhi’s/ Congress bastion of Amethi.
  • Another noteworthy development is the inroads BJP made in the state of Telangana. In my earlier notes pre-counting day, I wrote ‘non-BJP’ next to the state. TSR has won that state, but the fact that even Telangana Chief Minister’s daughter was ‘trailing’ in her constituency is telling.
    NDA and UPA with 4 each, and TSR with 9 = 17 seats. The Exit Poll had predicted I for NDA, 2 for UPA and 14 for TSR!
  • In The Verdict Roy explains that parties that won in State Assembly elections within one year of the Lok Sabha elections get a 25% boost. Well this too didn’t go accordingly. Telangana for one, and Madhya Pradesh too, as mentioned above. Chhatisgarh is also a more than good victory for BJP, even though Congress won the State Elections.
    NDA, however, got a major boost in Karnataka as the State Assembly elections also happened at the time. The Opposition in that state got hammered with 25 seats out of 28 for NDA.

It is a Modi sweep all over again. There are a lot of questions to ponder, lots of Whys and Hows… but for now here are just numbers.

Final Result:

NDA: 351 / 45% vote share
BJP: 300

UPA+: 91 / 29.8% vote share
Congress: 53

Other: 100

We need the logic, pragmatism and passion of Ambedkar to resist today’s political’s climate. Dr. BR Ambedkar propounded the 3 principles of the French Revolution: liberty equality fraternity. The India of today needs Babasaheb’s vision.

From the Largest Democracy in the World: Analysing 2019 Elections (Part 1)

Part 1 of Election Series: Exit Polls

It’s coming from the feel that this ain’t exactly real, Or it’s real but it ain’t exactly there… Democracy is coming…

— Leonard Cohen

I voted for the first time this election. The 2019 Lok Sabha election — where we are to elect our ‘representatives’ at the centre, in Parliament — is said to be a historic election that will either help make or further break the country: “the very soul of India is at stake”, I think I heard writer Arundhati Roy state.

I took this historic election as an opportunity to understand the electoral system in detail. One has a fair idea of the plot, but this is also a number’s game. For instance: how are number of votes converted to number of seats in Parliament? And so I, a student of literature, dabble in the science of psephology. This is an attempt, just as a fun exercise, to understand the play of numbers to see how elections are won, or lost!

Source: Outlook Magazine

If you too are a novice like me (that is just an earnest and curious citizen who is trying to understand her country), these numbers would seem abstract or random. All you can do is trust the headlines above. But that too is a dodgy enterprise these days. How do pollsters come up with these numbers? How do we know which ones to trust? Are they an accurate forecasting of the final results? I generally study words: how do I read these numbers?

I have two prominent psephologists Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala’s The Verdict: Decoding India’s Elections as aid to deconstruct what these numbers may mean. There is also a section in the book “How to Make Your Own Forecasts”, which prompted me to do the same. So join me in this exercise to read numbers, indicators… and predict the winner!

Starting from the above Exit Polls…

What we know: Sorry, but this story has no suspense. NDA is definitely coming back. If one thing exit polls are largely right about the winning party. The tricky part, however, is victory by what margin? Perhaps the consequential and evident return of NDA is something we didn’t want to see; one is always riding on hope. But what concerns us now is to what extent the BJP (read Modi) has control over the country.

So, what do we want to see in these numbers, now that we know NDA will win?
It is reduced centrality and not a sweeping majority.

Numbers at a glance…

All the polls, barring Neilsen and NewsX, predict numbers way past the majority (i.e. 272 seats). Today’s Chanakya has gone to the extent of announcing 350 seats for NDA. India Today has also predicted within that window, with the possibility of going up to almost 370. Perhaps these are the more confident pollsters? Because in the Verdict, Roy explains that pollsters largely ‘play safe’ and deliberately underestimate the number of seats for the winning party. This is the ‘bias’ in the result forecasts. Are Neilsen and NewsX then playing safe? Only one more day will tell…

Source: Twitter/Samarth Bansal

I will juxtapose (another literary enterprise) the final results on May 23 with NDTVs Exit Poll ‘Poll of polls’, which is presumably the average of all polls, where:

BJP+ is 302
UPA+ is 122
Others/’Non-Alligned’ is 118

ndtv.com

Because we haven’t had enough bad news already

If these numbers weren’t disheartening enough, pollsters playing safe and underestimating the final result means that the winners’ final numbers will be more than the forecast. The Verdict states that for exit polls, 82% of polls underestimate the winner. So if I even go state-wise, take Delhi for example: NDTV‘s ‘Poll of Polls’ has BJP with 6 out of the 7 seats. This might mean that BJP has won all 7 seats. This is much like a literary exercise, reading between the lines etc… To put exact numbers in place, according to the Verdict, calculated over the last forty years, winners have been underestimated by 14% of seats and by 39 seats. So to calculate the final winning seats one has to add about 30 seats for the winning party. Let’s take NDTV‘s Poll of polls: 302+30= 332 seats for BJP+

You may find the results ranging with increase in 8-14% seats or 20-40 seats for the winner. This too we will find out on the May 23!

But how believable are these polls?

The term used in the Verdict for correct forecasts is ‘strike-rate’. In the last four decades, apparently all polls have had a strike rate of 3 out 4, which is 75% of the time. All exit polls have a strike rate of 4 out of 5 that is 84%. Exit Poll strike rate for the Lok Sabha is 97% it seems but that is barring the year 2004 where all exit polls got it terribly wrong. So I say underestimate this 97% !

Also as a side-note, Odisha and Maharashtra are among the few states that have the lowest error in Exit Poll forecasts. Toughest is of course UP, heterogeneity of communities being a major factor.

In a nutshell

So what we know so far is that BJP will definitely win, even get seats above the majority mark I think. But on the final day, May 23, we are yet to see a lot of other factors at play for the negotiation and settling of seats, where the fate of this country will be sealed. Perhaps the voter was playing safe and was not honest about what vote she cast. Let us see. But be prepared for five more years of notoriety, stupidity, violence, and robbery. Hopefully a toned-down version of it.

Note: Barring the Exit Polls all info and statistics is from The Verdict.

. . .

Also see:

Or read:

“The Great Exit Poll Fraud”: https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/2/16967/The-Great-Exit-Poll-Fraud

Exploring Mindscapes with Samar Mehdi

I discovered yet another brilliant musician and guitarist a few months ago. I have been listening to Bhopal based singer-songwriter Samar Mehdi since. He practises what is called percussive guitar. In lay man’s terms he is a one man band: he plays the guitar, sings, and provides the rhythm and bass with his instrument, all at once. But another aspect that draws me to this artist, are his words and poetry.

Mehdi reaffirms that music can transform the heart, mind, lives. His recent album, Urooj —meaning ‘exaltation’ / ‘ascension’ in Urdu — is a metaphor for coming out of a depression. Urooj is a celebration of the mind and its complex and variant states — the pits of despair, confusion, as well the euphoria and ecstasy of coming back home to yourself, and consequently the world.

Samar Mehdi

Jumping write into the music…

The title track sets the inevitable mood and state of being from what was a harrowing state. But it doesn’t run away from that state. It doesn’t only acknowledge it, but deems it a vital part of oneself; it is not to be forgotten. Because ‘urooj’ is nothing but a result of the initial chaos. It can’t exist without it. In fact it also exists alongside it; it needs to exist alongside it. In this title track the listener will witness and relive the chaos again, but in the mind, a world unto itself, and the subject of this album. At the same time, there is also the promise of a new beginning with infinite possibilities.

I listened to this at a time of seasons changing, the bright colours of spring making way for the sordid heat in the plains of Delhi — a loss of life as it were. But the album makes one hopeful of change and what is to come. ‘Urooj’ is hope in the form of exaltation that encompasses the infinity of what is to unfold. The alchemy of nature and seasons, music and mind drew me towards this state. You will also notice there emerges form and beauty from the apparent chaos of multiple and simultaneous tones and sounds…

Title track – ‘Urooj’

If the state of urooj can be likened to a season, it is Spring! Some lyrics from another track ‘Safa’:

Kesariya ho ya hara ho balam! // Whether the beloved is saffron or green!
ya ho kaala ya gora ya neela ya peela! // Or black or white or blue or yellow!
Jab dil se dil ka taar juda ho // When you are in touch with your heart
to saara jag rangeela // then the whole world will open up to you

Phir! // Then!
aaye nahin koi raaste! // Nobody can come in the way!
na aam-aavam na tere saam dhaam // Nor society or even yourself

Jab dil se dil ka taar juda ho // When the heart is in touch with oneself
koi rok sake hai kya? // Can anybody come in the way?

Par is baat pe mein tai hoon // But I am sure of one thing
tu hai to mein hoon // I exist because of you

‘Safa’ , from the album Urooj

These words bring to mind poet Amir Khusrau’s “Aaj rang hai… mere mehboob ke ghar rang hai ri…” // I see colour everywhere… my beloved’s home is full of colour… One has to be in love in order to not only see, but also feel the colours of the world. In Mehdi’s song, it is only when one is in love with oneself that one can love the world or beloved. The beloved also becomes an ambiguous figure in his song, much like in Urdu ghazals. In this track the beloved can be the self, the world, or an unspecified other. It is in the union (wasl) of hearts with the self/world that there is utmost freedom: phir! koi rok sake hai kya?

If you can be your own beloved, the self can also be one’s own enemy. The speaker asks the self to cleanse oneself of the self: “safa kar khud ko khud hi se”// cleanse yourself of yourself; in other words, you are the only one who can free yourself (from yourself).

Which brings me to another beautiful track ‘Aazaad’ or freedom. I’ll let this song speak for itself:

Yeh umeedon mein kya dhal raha hai? // I wonder what is brewing today
Ke dil ka mausam badal raha hai // My heart’s season is changing today
Khul gaya aasmaan // The skies have opened up
Mein aazaad hoon // I am free

Mushkilon suno! Main aazaad hoon! // Listen, my woes! I am free!

Aaj mein aazad hoon // I am finally free
Tho yeh tai ho gaya // I am sure of this

Aaj mein aazad hoon // I am finally free today
saj gai kaikasha // The entire galaxy is celebrating

Aaj mein aazad hoon // I am finally free
Khul gaye baadbaan // The sails have spread themselves for me

‘Aazaad’, from the album

This celebration of the mind is not to romanticise mental health / illness. Mehdi in fact does not give any answers or clues to get out of the maze. But he shows a glimpse of what is waiting for you on the other side.

The following song ‘Martbaan’ explores the dark sides of the mind and says “Yeh bhi koi jeena hai”// This is living too… or he is reaching his hand out for you: Is this a healthy way to live?

You can take what you will from his beautiful soundscapes!!

“Martbaan”

note: translations mine

Raag Jhinjhoti & an Original Composition

I have been learning Hindustani Classical Music again, just for fun. The music takes me away from the challenges of day to day living and my own mind. But the music is also very much rooted in our everyday world. Take the raags themselves: a raag must be sung depending on the specific time of day or ‘prahar’, or the season. Raag Jhinjhoti, for instance, is to be sung between 9pm and 12am, or what is the second phase of the night. (Coincidentally I am also writing this piece at this time of night.) In this way, the raag draws you into the present, and your immediate context. Each raag also has a particular mood. Jhinjhoti is a lighter and playful raag. The raag then can also be a tool to explore and express your emotions, and your inner self. You are in fact brought closer to that which you are escaping!

This also happens at the level of language. I came across some interesting information about Raag Jhinjhoti from the Lahore based semi-classical singer Ali Sethi. The name ‘Jhinjhoti’ comes from Jhunjhunu, which is in the desert region of Rajasthan. Where there is a desert, there is also migration, he said. This etymology of the raag encapsulates for me the function, or the process/praxis of music. I spoke of music as escape. But in escape there is also travel and exploration — a travel away from the self; but the movement away is also a movement towards. Sethi also expressed this paradox in relation to the diversity of/in the world: expanding outward but also coming towards as one (of course you have heard of ‘unity in diversity’), the power of music. This philosophy of migration is extremely telling in times of building walls. This, he said, is also central to Sufi philosophy. It is a beautiful idea and paradox, which brings to my mind the imagery of the ebb and flow of the ocean: In leaving, there is returning; in going, there is coming; in separation there is union; in right there is wrong — this is the beautiful aporia in (my praxis of) music, and of life!

I was thrilled to hear this tidbit of information because I had used a combination of notes from Raag Jhinjhoti for my own composition. And unwittingly, the raag perfectly fits the theme of my song! Sethi’s explanation of Sufi philosophy also fits right into this attempt at modern songwriting.

Chorus from my (bilingual) song ‘Write a Song’:

If I could write a song
If I dare
And that’s the trouble
Without a care
Even if I don’t find you
in the pages somewhere

The song is about the creative process: there is somehow an amorphous ‘You’ (can be beloved, God, even the self, what have you!) required, desired, in order to create a work of art. Creativity emerges from this space of distance and separation from You. And it is in this distance that I can also come closer to You:

Here are some more lines in Hindi-Urdu from the bridge section of the song:

bichar ke jaaoge kahan
dariyao ki lehere
le aayegi paas

[Translated: “but where will you go if you leave?/ the tidal waves will bring you right back to me”]

So, where can you escape?

Here is a section from the song. (Click this link.) The raag presents itself right after this bridge section and the chorus. It might also be worth mentioning that Jhinjhoti consists of all major notes except ‘Ni’ (the last note on the scale), which is a minor note.

And this is the combination of the notes used in the song:

Ni Sa Ni Sa Ni Sa
Ga Re Sa Ni Dha Pa
Pa Dha Ga Ma Pa
Sa Ni Dha Pa

Jhinjhoti is the perfect, playful raag this season. I will be singing it till the end of Spring!

In the meanwhile, enjoy this modern adaptation of this beautiful ghazal in Jhinjhoti, from the film Haider:

And YOU MUST revel in Ali Sethi and the legendary Abida Parveen’s voice in Raag Jhinjhoti!

Film Review: Bollywood’s First Commercial Queer Love Story

How do you ‘un-see’ a movie?

I went with minimum expectation to see Bollywood’s first mainstream and commercial queer film, a love story between two women, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (tr. Things I felt when I saw this girl). But there was also a tiny speck of curiosity to see what a Bollywood film could do with this subject. Even that was giving the Hindi film industry too much benefit of doubt. I forgot about the film in its entirety, save for the few hours of annoyance and disappointment after. I’m investing my time writing about it because I need something to write about. It has been a few days though, and this is more about spending time on my blog. (The sudden burst of inspiration, after having bought one of my favourite writer’s latest novel!)

Poster of the film.

So, here are some thoughts about the movie:

First off: the movie was just plain boring! If anything, I want to be entertained first. The film does not draw you into Sweety the protagonist’s story whatsoever.

ELKDTAL felt like a tease. ‘Queer-baiting’? Well that was it. The entire film provides a heteronormative view of Sweety’s story. It is as though the film is ashamed of presenting its own story. And that’s why it fumbles in its narrative.

Quintessential of queer baiters representing the ‘mainstream’, the main subject matter is ironically left to the margins. It falls between the cracks, invisible to its own hankering. This happened in different ways:

The first half of the film could have easily been a typical hetero rom com. There is not even the slightest suggestion of it being a queer film. What is the ‘queer gaze’ or queer aesthetic? Even the lead lesbian figure is seen through the male gaze of her stalker-friend. We are unable to see the world through her eyes, save for some cringe worthy scribbles and drawings in her diary. One has to really peer between the lines for a semblance of anything.

Throughout the film there are other characters who constantly speak for the lesbian protagonist. This is also simply by giving less screen time or dialogues to the central character. And we see nothing of what is her first serious relationship. (Sweety and her lover Kuhu get just about 10 minutes of screen time, or maybe even less, in the two hour film.) Of course you need characters to propel your story, but here the protagonist’s story or ‘truth’ (that nauseating term often used to describe homosexuality) propels the narrative, character arc, and the agenda of the men in her life. But revisiting Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, sexuality is that ‘truth’ or secret that is just dying to come out (in a lot of queer films the characters literally die when they ‘come out’ to the world). Sexuality becomes discourse through its loud silences and the open secret that it is. It is more about the discourse that surrounds sexuality than sexuality in itself. Sexuality is discourse. And we see this happening in the film. The film is discourse surrounding the protagonist’s sexuality. It addresses her sexuality but never really hits home.

There is also another prominent character, who is the protagonist’s confidant and friend. He is supposed to be the good guy who sacrifices his love for his friend and helps her ‘come out’ to her family and loved ones, while also furthering his own career by using her story. (He thinks broadcasting it to the entire town is a brilliant idea; and of course the protagonist, having no agency over how and when she wants to come out, agrees with the plan.) So really how ‘good’ is this man? Selfish woke boy. Check. Stalker. Check.

Sweety doesn’t have much agency, but she has power of another kind. Knowledge as power: the knowledge of her sexuality as power that drives and controls the narrative (as discourse) both within the film, and outside as critique. Discourse and knowledge both propel the narrative, and Sweety’s sexuality is central to that.

This movie does the bare minimum, that is not having its lesbian protagonist die some tragic death. But it could have done a lot more. It is definitely an opportunity lost.

The least one can do is end with some #throwback and nostalgia with the original iconic song “Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga” with Anil Kapoor and Manisha Koirala.

From the movie ‘1942: A Love Story’ (1994)

Bittersweet Symphony

Coldplay / Richard Ashcroft – Bittersweet Symphony (Live 2005)
"Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life
Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die.
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah.

No change, I can't change, I can't change, I can't change,
but I'm here in my mold, I am here in my mold.
But I'm a million different people from one day to the next
I can't change my mold, no, no, no, no, no, no, no"

Usually I keep my private life to myself but this is my space anyway, so why not try something new.

I’ve increasingly come to believe in the phenomenon of serendipity. This song appeared before me as I just returned from a dear friend’s wedding.

I was deeply happy for my friend, but there was also a strange pit in my stomach. I wasn’t outright sad, maybe melancholic, which is, I think, a more digestible feeling. I was talking to another friend about this. It feels like an end of an era, she said. That, to me, was a precise articulation of the source of my sadness. It was the end of something, a chapter closed: childhood; the nature of the friendship; the possibility of another’s absence in this juncture of our lives; even the nostalgia felt dated, if that makes any sense. But there is also the possibility of a new beginning; not an end, but a renewal. It is one of the innumerable second chances that life throws at us. I am saying this because it made me realise that nothing lasts, as painfully obvious as that is. Because aren’t we always trying to hold on to something? It drew me back to the momentary present that is in itself ever fleeting, and that’s all there is really. The present moment to be lived wholly and fully; and not with a sense of something lost, but with hope, of something yet to come.

That bittersweet sensation lies between that feeling of something lost and that which is yet to come. It is a sensation, a symphony to relish.

Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life…