#Republic Launches

Political discourse in India today revolves around a single question: Are you a Liberal or a Right Winger? There doesn’t seem to be room for much else lately. You’re either a liberal who stands for equality and social justice or a “Bhakt” who cannot uncouple himself from India’s past. The Marxist or the Hindutva-vadi. The atheist or the Gau Rakshak. Nationalist or “Paki-lover”. 

The difference between the two groups seems to stem from a single root cause – the identity of India. Liberals tend to view India as a single forcibly united political entity that emerged from colonial rule seventy years ago. The Right typically considers India to be a more complex historical entity – almost a person – several millennia old and defined by the banner of Hindu thought and civilization. Liberals seem to view the creation of India the political entity as a way to escape the past and keep up with the times. Keeping up is defined by Western ideals, we shall soon see. Right Wingers view the same event of independence as an opportunity to finally reclaim our identity after centuries of foreign rule. Both Islamic conquerers and European colonizers come under this umbrella.

Pseudo-Liberal India (we lack true liberals) would be built on the politics of appeasement. Shah Bhano, Mandal Commission, caste based reservations, and a general brushing aside of pre-Islamic history have happened in the past and worse will happen if we let it. This brand of politics will never allow Uniform Civil code to happen. It will focus on fracturing India along as many fault lines as possible in order to capture votes. Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, the Left and even the Dravidian parties are examples of this school of thought. 

Tired of watching the rest of the world (read China) speed by, the Great Indian Middle Class voted for Change. What is Change? Change is Hindutva. Let us classify the history of India into two time periods – pre and post “invaders”. Now let’s regard anything succeeding the raids of invaders as an aberration whose effects must be erased. Hindu thought and philosophy, ancient literature and art must rule supreme. Out with PK and in with Bahubali. Out with NDTV. In with Republic. Out with Unilever. In with Patanjali.

The perfect example of the ridiculous fight we’re witnessing is in our approach to Yoga and Ayurveda. Every time a Western journal publishes something that validates traditional Indian healing, both sides are up in arms. The Right claims “India knew it all along”. The Left wants to buy the repackaged “scientific” truth and ridicules the traditionalists as blind followers. Both miss the point. Scientific validation of traditional systems is not bad. We need to learn why and how things work. That said, we can’t simply reject centuries old empirical truths just because we lack understanding (which is either lost or non-existent). Instead, India should be at the forefront of research into what works in Ayurveda and why.

Here’s the truth. Just as we cannot seek to erase a cultural identity several millennia old, we cannot erase the truths of colonization however much it may hurt our pride to not do so. Every colonizer leaves an imprint and no matter how much Subramanyam Swami wishes it, one cannot deny that a mosque once stood in Ayodhya too. We can’t do away with Cricket or the English language or the Gazal or Hindustani. We need to learn to make peace with history.

What we are living through is a giant tussle for the reset button that will shape the future of our country. It doesn’t matter which side wins, we all lose. Meanwhile, there is Republic.

10 Mistakes that will Kill Your Terrace Garden

Transplanting Everything
Seedlings are not cute. They’re as clingy and needy as newborn and throw tantrums like toddlers. At the top of the list of seedlings that will die of shock are cucumber and bhindi (ladies finger/okra). Tomatoes and brinjal (eggplant) will survive transplantation but if you’re a beginner like me, then only barely.

None of the transplanted creepers in the back survived. I should have culled the radish in the front

Too much attachment and too little culling
If you’re a first time gardener like me, you probably get excited looking at any seed that sprouts. Don’t. Most seeds that sprout will not make it. So the point is to be ruthless and just cull a seedling . So the ratio is something like this – about 80% of seeds will germinate and about 60-70% of those will grow into some kind of viable plant. As the seeds get tinier the ratios get worse so plant a few seeds per hole and cull, cull, cull till you get the right number of plants.

Watering too little
Forgetting to water your plants for a day or two in Chennai will, unfortunately, kill them as I found out when I locked my house and went away for a weekend. I watered my plants on Friday evening and came back to droopy babies on a Monday morning.

Watering too much
I learned my lesson and outsourced watering to my maid when I was out of town last weekend and I came back to find that my mint had drowned. Quite literally.

Over watered and under fertilized.

Insufficient fertilizer
Call it a hangover from pregnancy five years ago but I’m happy to never even look at a vitamin supplement again. While that works for humans, it doesn’t work that way with plants. The soil you spent all that money on? Turns out it’s not going to feed your plants even for a few months. You need to fertilize your plants every freaking week. Bad enough I need to plan for groceries to feed the family three meals a day. Now I need to buy food to feed my plants too?

Planting stuff wherever
I never understood why my bhindi wasn’t growing despite water, mulch, sunny spot, fertilizer, no aphids, and lots of talking and love. Turns out the bean creepers on the wall (more about this later) cast a shadow on the bhindi for most of the day. The bhindi decided to bolt.

Whatever the case, bhindi blooms are so precious 🙂

Planting stuff whenever
Case in point, I have two lovely green broad bean (chikkudikaya) creepers that will never flower or bear vegetables because I planted them too late. I will have to uproot two perfectly healthy plants because they’re basically useless both to me and to their own evolutionary purpose. Sigh!

Insufficient Support for creepers
Creepers are attractive to new gardeners because ooh, they’re so cute and ooh, I don’t need too much space to grow them. But guess what? Creepers are like the tiny dogs of the plant world. They need a lot of maintenance especially in the early days. If you don’t provide a creeper with support in the first couple of weeks it will not grow. Once you do provide support you need to train the creepers up the support. And you also need to keep pruning the lower branches because you cannot…

Should have pruned the lower branches and trained the creepers up much earlier

Trust the benevolence of nature
What is that you say? Trust nature? Sure, that’s exactly what I did before I lost an entire bed of long beans creepers to aphids. Where did the aphids come from? Well, I didn’t prune the lower branches of the creepers well enough and that was enough to infect the entire stems and lower branches. Not just that, in one week the aphids spread from the beans to the bhindi and destroyed half of those too.


Storms and other s*it
When all else fails, rest assured that a water tanker strike or an out of season cyclone will kill your remaining plants.

Killed, just killed by Vardah

I’ve decided to thank our farmers and treat my terrace garden for what it is – an expensive, soul-crushing, time sink of a hobby. What am I saying, I’m just going to do it all over again in June because hey, I’ve made all the mistakes possible, right?

A harvest of long beans

An Idiot’s Guide to dealing with the latest news cycle controversy #Gurmeher

The script is simple. There is hate-speech or borderline hate speech designed to provoke hyper-nationalists. There is a facade for liberals to hide behind – freedom of expression, oppression of minorities, dalit rights, animal rights and so on*. There is a highly publicized clash with violence and death threats which is then covered liberally by the news media. If you’re lucky, the face of the controversy might even be from an oppressed group! Finally, there’s a huge ruckus ending with a highly polarized prime-time debate and then poof! the next thing you know, that’s all anyone wants to talk about at lunch and you are expected to have an opinion.

Source: Firstpost

You have a career, family, project deadlines, tax deadlines, aphids attacking your hibiscus, and other assorted worries preventing you from getting the facts, you say? Who the f*** is Gurmeher you ask? Fear not! Use this guide to appear knowledgeable about any issue facing Indian politics at all without reading a single tweet or article.

Step One: Pick an Angle
If you’re  a woman, that’s easy. Pick the feminist angle whether or not it’s relevant to the case at hand. There is bound to be some woman being trolled with threats of sexual assault as is the norm in our country. Support her. In this case, call out the trolls issuing rape threats in response to her posts.

The tricky part in this step is suppressing your conscience.  For example, you might have some moral qualms about the general hypocrisy of supporting dalit rights when you use the phrase “reservation candidate” in a condescending tone. Suppress them. Over time you’ll perfect the art of double-think just as our news media has.

Step Two: Pick a Persona
Stephen Colbert had it right when he created that guy. My personal preferences are “rational truth seeker” and “feminist”. If I were to play “rational truth seeker”, for example, I would ask questions like, “How do we know the outsiders entering Ramjas college were actually ABVP activists? It’s possible that someone paid goons to beat people up and claim to be ABVP, no?” and if I were to pick the feminist persona, I would write articles such as these.

The risk here is that you may sound slightly deranged and over the top. The best way to avoid doing so is to just ask random rhetorical questions. Try these stock phrases: “Are we sure of the facts?” or “Women always bear the brunt in all conflicts in our country” or even “Sigh! There’s so much stupidity, I don’t even know where to begin analyzing!”

Step Three: Deny All Other Angles
Stop up your ears should you chance upon an idiot trying to make a nuanced argument. One good idea would be to quote celebrities and politicians liberally. Javed Akhtar and Aamir Khan are usually good bets. Kiren Rijiju is usually highly quotable also.

The biggest risk here is of course accidentally seeing an issue in grey instead of black and white. If this is to happen, immediately switch to a prime-time debate on TV.

Step Four: Polish
This is where our Right Wing is at a serious disadvantage. While both sides excel at idiocy in our country, our Right Wingers lose out by resorting to crude stereotypes of hyper-nationalism and Hindu Chauvinism instead of presenting a more polished image. Liberals on the other hand, tend to spin stories better. They also tend to poke gentle fun of their thinner skinned, boorish brothers and sisters and try to educate them how “civilized” discourse should take place.  How interesting that hate speech is “just words” but violence arising from said hate speech is “uncivilized”*.

Take Shashi Tharoor for instance. This argument is no more nuanced than Virender Sehwag’s. The gist of the article linked above is, “Be nice to a twenty year old expressing political opinions because she’s a twenty year old expressing political opinions”. Forget the premise for a moment. Notice the gentle condescension in Tharoor’s tone? Notice the subtle reminder to Veeru how valuable an education is? See how he helpfully sets out his argument in paragraphs? Shasi Tharoor is mansplaining, albeit to another man.

On the other hand, look at posts by Shefali Vaidya – a more coherent Right Winger. She’s too blunt. She directly attacks main stream media. She does not ask us to introspect or question society or even remind us what civil discourse is about. She simply tries to call out what she feels is bullshit. From an aesthetic perspective, which persona do you prefer?

I digress. This is meant to be an actionable guide. So, if you’re a Liberal, play to your strengths. If you choose to disagree with mainstream media don’t forget to prefix every other sentence with, “I am not Right Wing but…” You do not want to be associated with an “illiterate cricketer” with humble middle-class roots or a “wrestler troll” worse, a TV actress turned politician. Do you?

Step Five: Sob quietly at night while watching your child sleep 
While this cheat sheet will help you survive, it will not change the reality of the world we live in. It’s ok to cry when you think about the world you’ve brought a child into. In fact, given that we live in a world where hate speech is conjured to feed news cycles every time there are elections and violence unfailingly follows, I strongly encourage it.

* All worthy causes in their own right deserving more respect than our news cycles give them