Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fine Bongs: to the fine Bongs I know

I have been feeling a tad bad about dissing Bongs perhaps a bit too much recently. I have been feeling, I am perhaps not being fair (which not many Bengalis are, although that is their favourite shade of skin) since I told my Bengali neighbour to go back to Bangladesh when we had a fight over him not closing the lift door and making me climb 4 floors of stairs. On hind sight it is perhaps even ingratitude on my part as that was the only time I got to use my legs for anything other than pulling up pants in months. However, this piece is to redeem myself of the unfairness and give the Bongs what they are due, for once.

My latest visit to Kolkata also gave me time and company to appreciate some of the Bongs I know and material to fill at least one page with good things about them. I will start right away:

The best things I like about them is what that guy Arnab writes in his blog http://greatbong.net/ - “Bengalis, even more than macher jhol and Ganguly, love the ideal of the dispossessed, the simple and the honest fighting against the big bad wolves.” I agree and love Bengalis for it. Not only do they love the fight of the underdog, in them there is, as if almost, a competition to be the smaller one, to attain the greatness in being small, smaller, smallest. Although the practice and that kind of idealism is way dated in these bigger-phone, bigger-car, bigger-TV, bigger-Bibi days, I must admit, as an outsider, it suddenly inflates your sense of self without having to blow hot air for it when you are in Kolkata. In this land of smallness, even my barely hundred cm self feels big. Everyone around me is so humble that something like my rudely asking someone to move their ass so I can sit in comfort in a bar can be looked as a heroic act. It pleases my ego immensely. For nothing gives me more pleasure than to be rude to people. And no where else in the world, I get a chance to be so rude to people and not be spitted back on my face. In Delhi this could result in my being shot by some big shot’s gun of a son. But in Kolkata, I am admired as a spirited woman.

Also I must admit, deep in my heart I am a die hard romantic and I like seeing suffering sad people. Only problem with a whole lot of suffering people is that often they do get angry when the suffering gets too much. This however does not happen often and you really have to push the peace loving Bengalis too far to raise their fury. For example I have not seen any Bengali ever protesting against the very convoluted bureaucratic systems that have evolved everywhere in Kolkata over CPM rule of nearly a century. If you want to go to a restaurant, there is quite a possibility that you will not get lunch 5 minutes after 3 pm. Rules are rules and you have to eat your lunch between 1 to 3 even you have just reached the city after travelling for many hours in delayed (by blockage called Abarodh or workers' strikes) public transport. The union goes to its after noon nap at 3 and if you die hungry who cares? After all there are millions who go hungry in this world everyday. Fair.

In most public places, including the metro railway, the theatres and the Victoria Memorial and the Museum, the process of entering them is more complicated than a getting a passport done in India. These buildings, which were designed with many doors and gates for easy accessibility to a large number of people that are expected to visit them, keep most of the doors locked. The remaining ones have strange rules like, you can go only down after 12 pm and come only up after 2 am and vice versa. Bongs are a very old civilisation and like any evolved organisms their systems of operation have become complicated over time. As a friend said, 'even the cirss-crossed police check points are so complicated in Kolkata, that if you enter one in Tollygunj, chances are , you will find yourself coming out of Kankurgachi'.

This creates one of the favourite Bong social rituals of queuing up. I am not complaining about this. I much prefer queuing up like decent people (and the Bongs are a fine lot if I have not said it before) than the absolutely irritating habit other Indians have of going straight to the beginning of a queue, upon assumption that other people are standing there to attain nirvana or something. What I am getting at is that however, I have never seen a single Bengali complain about these complex bureaucratic procedures. Why in a restaurant do you have to first speak to the doorman, who will then go and talk to the headwaiter, who will then instruct the waiter to go and talk to someone you cannot see inside the kitchen and only then you are allowed to sit down or wait outside in the heat? Why can't they open few more gates at the airport so that the lines are not long and move fast? No, Bengalis do not ask such questions. They accept what is given by the system as good law abiding citizens. I once heard Amrtya Sen talk about this in appreciation to some effect. But that does not mean they are a timid lot. I have seen the wrath of the underdogs more than once in my life. Why, this time when I was at the film festival, one of the theatres had a bad projector. Naturally, the lot, which had queued up long hours before that to get a sit, ran their unexercised self to breathlessness in getting a good seat and reserving a few for their friends, was not pleased with this. And when for the second time the focus went out of it, there was such passionate screams of 'PHOCAS! PHOCAS!' that I for once thought we were inside that other movie 2012, than watching a French semi-porn. I have similarly seen the underdogs losing it collectively while reprimanding someone for breaking a queue, burning buses which have run over pedestrians and beating up thieves and eve teasers. Good stuff.

The other thing, I like Bengalis for, is their sense of culture. Oh, it is so heartening to see them singing Rabindra Sangeet or 60's rock year after year. No modern influence has been able to influence Bengalis love for traditional Rabindra Sangeet and rock music. I mean, 19 year old kids still play Beetles and Led Zep, can you beat it? I feel positively rootless when I am in Kolkata what with my recently acquired taste for electronica and fused music. In cinema too who can beat the Bengalis’ love for European retro and Meghe Dhaka Tara? Not me. I loved that semi French porn. Well, I better not be talking too much about culture here, least I give away my absolute lack of it. I have been already busted once in Guwahati for apa-sanskriti. I do not want to be beaten up by angry underdogs in Kolkata next time.

The next thing I love about Bongs, is their love for love. These non-believing communists might not be so much for love of God, but for love of romance and love of lust, they will surely bring a few more Nobel prizes to the jati (Nation). Prem , as they call it, is the essence of the Bengalis' existence. Towards their mothers in extended childhood and towards Aparna Sen and Uttam Kumar in late adolescence (I do not know many Bengalis who are old) their romanticism stays with them through their thicks and thins. And proven their fondness for melancholia, (also known as Dukkho-Bilasita in Bengali. They actually have a name for it!) it is mostly thins.

Their lives might be ridden with struggles of justice for the underdog, but the never-say-die Bengalis keep the lamp of love (Premer Bati) alight through load-sheddings and delays of metro trains due to suicides everyday. The very sophisticated, well established and wide spread Bengali pornography industry (also known as Bot-tolar Boi and I hear it is dying out though) is a proof of this. Given their love for romance and the kind of endurances Bengalis go through for it, they will give the Italians a run for one more Nobel prize - for being best lovers. If there is a definition of a perfect lover in the world, every Bengali strives to fit it to the T. Men by being dominated by the women and women by keeping their necks at a painfully attractive slant and batting eyelashes frequently. They love to suffer and they suffer for love.

The last thing that I have to mention (of course I could go on with a long list of things to love about Bengalis. But I am afraid I might start eulogizing just like them) is their love for adda. Idle chit-chat, meaningless conversations, baseless arguments, call what you want it, but there is nothing like a good Bengali adda to make you develop strange ideas about yourself and spread vicious rumours about your friends. Adda is also the best place and the way to insult your closest friends everyday, to take out all that pent up emotions from the unbearable humidity of Kolkata. The same Bengali masochism, that makes the Bengalis strive to be the deprived. makes the addas some of the most creative spaces in the world. This I have to give to Bengalis, although they can be boringly constant with some things like their love for old films, music and politics (read CPM-Mamata), they are fabulously innovative with their insults. Day after day, they meet the same friends and have the serious arguments over the same shit – Mamata-CPM, cricket, muri and chanachur or telebhaja, but they will consistently find original ways to abuse each other. I might as well confess here, the overflowing sarcasm, unscientific convictions and the over-riding exaggeration that this tribute to Bengalis is based on, I got it from the millions of addas I have participated in, with my Bengali friends. For this I will remain eternally grateful them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Manipur – Irom Sharmila’s Land


Manipur, literally meaning "jewelled land", nestle deep within a lush green corner of North East India. Surrounded by blue hills with an oval valley at the centre, rich in art and tradition and surcharged with nature's pristine glory…”

I look, annoyed, at the chirpy way my colleague has started the paper on Manipur. Almost like the ‘generous’ pieces the travel publications, I write for sometimes, demand out of run-down places that have been turned into tourist destinations by building concrete govt. tourism guest houses and more concrete hotels around them. It also exudes a sense of peace and calm that sometimes I have to write about the same places while being surrounded by loud Bengali tourists. To notice the blue hills, the lush greens, the rich tradition and culture of Manipur in October 2009 requires the same amount of ignorance (and the supposed bliss it brings), an extremely optimistic disposition (may be caused by pressure of pay cheque) and a paradoxical detachment.

This is not to malign my colleague. His writing does get more critical...

The last decade of the twentieth century is best remembered in Manipur for violent ethnic clashes on its soil. The first in the fray was the Kuki-Naga clashes which started in the year 1992 and continued till 1998 followed by the clashes between the Meiteis and the Meitie Muslims in May 1993. In June 1995, there was a sudden eruption of Kuki-Tamil clashes in Moreh. The latest was the Kuki-Paite clash in 1997-1998. In June 2001, there was Meitei uprising in Manipur Valley against Government of India and NSCN (IM)’s proposal to extend its territory to Naga inhabitant areas. Of all the conflicts that surfaced in Manipur in the 2 decades, the Naga Kuki conflict, and the Naga-Meitei Conflict were the worst….

To address such situations, the Indian parliament enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958 (AFSPA), one the most draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed in its 60 years. It was first applied to the Naga Hill areas of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern states of India. … Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order". It gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of "aiding civil power”

... Anyone’s would have to. Manipur is nothing but a critical entanglement of complexity, all created and some consequential, right now. And the complexities do not end at ethnic dissatisfaction, insurgency and militarization alone. Proximity to Burma, heroin, guns, HIV/AIDS, counterfeit money, nefarious nexus between Indian state, the Marwari businessmen, leaders of Under Ground groups (UGs, they are lovingly referred to as in Manipur and from now on here), dirty politicians, greedy officials… the whole game will make Puzo, Kubrik etc feel like a little girl.

I tried making a van diagram (remember we are writing a paper?), but it all soon became too complicated and a vague sense of failure similar to that of what I felt while doing my masters in Economics set in. So I borrowed this thing called friendship wheel from Facebook. (Sometimes FB is useful. Especially when you are writing a paper). And this is what it looks like:

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(Image: Devraj Chaliha)

Any serious attempt at writing about Manipur has the danger of creating one’s own Frankenstein. To harness a story which is already out of hands requires creating epics. Thankfully, we (me and my colleague) only have to write a strategic paper about the conditions of poverty in Chandel district. But the lure of unleashing the monster also chases you in dreams while you are thinking about it...

Over the past couple of months the atmosphere in Manipur has been hot and stormy again. The killing of an unarmed ex-UG member in broad day light, in a crowded market place that was reported by Tehelka, lead to intense protests. Needless to say the state’s reply has also been intense. Many activists and protester are in prison, booked straight under the NSA (National Security Act). It means six months' prison without bail and without trial. What threat do people, who protest against military atrocities and fight for upholding human rights, pose to the nation? People who demand an equal and dignified treatment from their own state, who feel neglected and isolated from the identity that has been formed as a nation, are treated as threat to the nation by this government sworn under a constitution that guarantees civil liberties such as freedom of speech! This is why Jiten Yumnum and Irom Sharmila are in prison right now. Jiten is a friend and a fellow activist who works on issues of climates change and believes in justice. He was arrested from Imphal airport on his way to a conference in Bangkok in September and has been booked under NSA. Jiten is a shy man common to the parts here, who is a very quiet activist. Is that what the Indian state fears?

In Manipur, everyday, you read about at least a couple of killings of UGs by military. (Yesterday, 01.11.09: they killed 7). The rumor has it that the chief minister has been strictly ordered by the ‘centre’ to deal a heavy hand in bringing down the ultras. He has been given a target of 1500 killings by the end of 2009, to prove his men are working efficiently. The resultant massacre is designed slow but steady, taking away young lives off Manipur every day. Death by military bullets has become a part of everyone’s life in Manipur. Here is one story about that:

A woman lost her son to the bullet. She got the news that she had to go and bring the dead body of her son from the morgue. Naturally her neighbours and friends accompanied her to this ordeal. When they reached the morgue, another woman, a neighbour who had gone with her to hospital found her own son also there, lying as a dead body. This mother did not even know that her son was killed too.

As we drove around Manipur, through the blue hills that my colleague mentioned at the beginning, it was difficult to feel the usual sense of elation and carefreeness that mountains bring. Instead a sense of anxiety hung from the leaves of the forests and the edges of the really bad roads that are ubiquitous to North-East like its bamboo baskets and monsoon rains. Each village had an army camp adjacent to it and two check gates manned by the army. One at the entrance and one at the exit, from whichever direction you approach. At each check gate, the driver had to get down and register his vehicles and answer innumerable questions. The passengers had to get down and walk over to the other side of the lowered bamboo barricade so that the army could search you and the vehicle. In our case, we were 9 people in the vehicle and the back door of the Marshal did not open. Getting everyone out meant a drill more difficult than the army’s and we had to do it more than 10 times in a distance of about 40 km. But that is not all. There were also patrolling troupes who stopped us few more times on the way asking us questions like 'what are you doing here?' - in Hindi. In our car out of the 9 people, 7 were from that part of Manipur. We were in fact visiting their villages. The other 2 were me and my colleague. My colleague is from Manipur and I am from Assam. The military is from the rest of India. And we are asked what are we doing here?!

The head of the organisation, through which we had organised the visit, was adamant on driving the vehicle himself. The young driver had to sit at the back. The road was really bad. We had to push through knee deep mud longer than we could drive the car. I asked why he was not letting the driver drive. He laughed and said that the driver does not understand Hindi much and if the army asks him to stop and he does not understand, they will immediately fire upon us. That moment it became clear to me why they were pointing to the hills that folded into the horizon towards Burma and told me moments ago, “This place is called Death Valley”.
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Each moment in Manipur throws you with her incredible stories. The Meitei’s talking about the rest, the friendships between a Naga and Kuki that immediately polarizes if you happen to mention the conflict between the 2 groups, the women who have taken in the role of both protectors and protesters in this time of trouble. But my favourite story from Manipur is this one...
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Let the gate of the prison be flung wide
I will not go on another path
Please remove the shackles of thorn
Let me be not accused
For being incarnated in the life of a bird
---- Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila is also one of the many who are arrested under NSA for posing threat to national security of India. In November this year, she enters 10th year of being in police custody. She also completes 9 years without eating.

Sharmila was arrested in 2000 for being on a fast-unto-death strike. Few months before, security forces had indiscriminately fired upon a gathering of people killing 11 civilians. Sharmila announced she will not eat until AFSPA has been removed from Manipur. This killing of innocents has to stop! And it has been 9 years since she ate, showing how powerless the Indian state is that even their brutal laws have not been able to break her resolve. She lives in the hospital, being nose fed by force. The law says that the longest the police can keep one under custody under NSA is 6 months. So every six month Sharmila is set free for a day or two. As a free bird, she heads straight for the relay hunger strike that continues outside the hospital in her support. The police arrest her back after 2 days again for six months.

9 years, AFSPA still remains in Manipur, killing many. But Sharmila’s spirit remains alive and kicking the oppressive state in the face. Her friends plan to celebrate her indomitable spirit this November through poetry, music, theatre, dance and much more. I salute her with a few jumps and screams with my arms stretched to the sky.

  • Here I recommend SURFACE, the book by Siddhartha Deb, published by PICADOR INDIA even when I have huge reservations about recommending Bengalis and I am presumptuous about him being a Bengali. It captures the complexities of Manipur through simply narrated stories and experiences of the protagonist. Although at times I did find the protagonist to be an Indian the way he felt about things in the ‘region’. But I don’t hold it against him as the protagonist is an Indian. Brilliantly written and a must read to get a true feel of the pandemonium that we live in. His stories if feel outlandish ever, remember, there is no distance between them and the reality people are living in the North-East now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Time, Second Time, Over and Over Again

This weekend a lot of us (I and some friends) did something for the first time. Apparently it is great if you can do something for the first time every time in your life. (Remember that corny ad – 'when was the last time you did something for the first time'?). Obviously as you grow old, doing something new every time becomes increasingly difficult. And when you are as old as me and as lazy as my friends, doing something new is a strenuously disorganised bureaucratic hustle. Often such ambitious attempts result in permanent damage in relationships built over gallons of alcohol and years at the best and all crew sitting and sulking at home at the least.

So we were thrilled to bits as we did something for the first time together and quite amiably too. Everybody agreed and no one fought. We all went to Godzi's house for a party!!! Now people, who know us and know Godzi, will think - “what's the big deal about going to Godzi's for a party?” this I will explain later. People who do not know us and do not know Godzi will think - “who is Godzi?” I will explain this first.

Godzi is a human friend of mine. In some cultures when you love someone too much you have to shorten, disfigure or mutilate the names given to them by establishments like family or/and christen them into completely new ones. A guy I know called Pratishyam is now called Po-te. From Protishyam to Potassium to Pota to Po-te to sometimes even Pot. A friend who teaches in a college is Profu. From Professor to Prof to Profu. Godzila is a name given to him by his friends and by now you must have guessed – for his physical amplitude. However with time, as his friends’ love for him grew, even Godzila sounded too formal. He is now called Godzi or Godz. The younger lot calls him Godzi Da* with respect. So Godzi is a human being who has a normal name given by his parents. But to protect his identity, I am not telling you his real name here.

*Da is what you call elder brothers in Assamese. Like Vuti in Zulu and Bhaisaab in Urdu.

Now that I have told this, even the one's who do not know us and Godzila will ask the same question as the ones who know us and know Godzila - “what's the big deal in going to Godzi's for a party?” True, we have been to Godzi's for many years. Single handedly Godzila has kept alive many people's sexual-social life in conservative Guwahati by allowing people to meet and mate at his place. We have all cooked, eaten, drunk, partied, got laid or vomited in Godzi's house innumerable times. But why this was a first time for all of us is that this time he invited us. He actually called each and every one of his friends and asked them to come over! Now coming from Godzila, that was a first time. For us and for Godzila.

Godzi has been living on his own, in a house provided by his parents in Guwahati since he has grown pubic hair. In 'Indian' societies that is quite something isn't it? I mean which parents would actually give their son a house in the same city and let him live there with his friends? Even his neighbours thought this was against culture. Of course the amount of noise that came out of his house every night contributed to the way they thought. But all in all Godzi has lived a life of admiring sortedness. Bike, babes, booze and bandhu (friends) has been his without having to do much for it. I mean, unless of course you consider being born and having to eat, drink and get laid – doing. But alas! Nothing in life is permanent. Even elephants get stuck in mud, even great people's boats sink (old Assamese saying). Even Godzila's life has been rocked. And not by no Iron Maiden ho!

One day his parents told him they want to breakdown the old house (the one Godzila lived in) and build a new one. For some of us who are naturally inclined towards nastiness, it was cause for much jealousy. Not only have his parents given him a house, now they are building him a new one! True the old house was getting a bit out of fashion. What with all those puke, paan and other not-mentionable stains all over. Single bedroom house was a bit tedious since you have to take turns using the bed for sex. The sofas in the living room were a bit too small for that too. So jealous howmuchever we were, Godzi was getting a new house and we would be able to fornicate in different beds, in different rooms. The kitchen will get equipped and the bathroom cleaned. So we waited patiently for months. His old house got broken down. He started living in one room from a whole house. From at least having a separate room to shag, we were reduced to eight people in one bed. And eat and drink there too. It might give you images of wild orgies like the Roman royals, but let me tell, it was not always nice. Not especially when you’re getting nudged in the middle of your sleep by some other people getting it on. Not when you could hear people frantically ripping condom packets and had to stop yourself from telling them to be careful in your regular blind drunk state. But we held patiently. Not for once did we swear at Godzila for not having the house ready or at his father for not hurrying up with the construction. Whatever we said, obliquely about building contractors and labourers being lazy these days, were constructive support. And the new house was ready one day. ‘The fruit of patience is always sweet’. Bullshit!!! Here you could say, 'who is Patience hey?' Well, she is a friend of mine but I digress. The fitting thing to write here would be this piece of valuable advice I got from a friend, 'never trust your parents. They can betray you anytime'.

For, just when the house got ready and our miseries were coming to an end, when we had planned the big couches that would be ideal for all those stretching positions described in my Chinese erotica booklet and the dim lights that would enhance the mood just right, his mother announced that they are going to move in and live with him!!! Whoa, whoa! Such cruelty towards your own umbilical connections! Such utter stabbing on the back since what was that guys name too?! But yes, that's what happens. That's how elephants' boats sink and great people get mud baths in Maldives.

Godzila, begged, brawled and boozed. He even tried talking to his mother. But no, mother remained straight and stable. Like the leaning tower of Piza. And finally when Godzila cried, his mother melted. I mean, who can see a big man like Godzila cry? Not even his own mother. So like a great Indian mamta-(love, particularly motherly love I think)-filled mother she said, 'only on one condition. You have to get married.'

And true like any Indian mother (they are the epitome of truth and honesty etc I hear, though I can't really vouch for my own mother on that), she has moved in and has been living in the house we had so meticulously planned on getting dirty for the past couple of months. Not only that, she has done up the house, in flowery silk curtains and frilly fridge covers. All Godzila needs is to get married. Even the condoms and lubes for his suhag raat (first night) are kept in his bedside drawer. All he needs is to find a girl and get married. And we will be able to move back into his house and party again. We have of course stopped visiting him ever since the ominous presence of his parents in the house. I personally do not like parents and their presence around me for more than a couple of minutes at a time. I keep on going to the loo or the fridge or to my room in their house to avoid sharing contaminated space with my parents lest I get conservatigo or something. So, what Godzila has caught in the past months from his parents, his livers only know. We have tried finding a girl for him to marry but that is not working out very well either. We have not found a cool enough girl who will marry Godzila and leave us all be. In his house, with or without her. Mostly without.

So for the first time in few months his parents were going back to their own house. For 2 days. And for the first time in his life Godzila invited us to his house for a party. For the first time in his life he cooked for us. Actually his plan of making friends cook like other times failed and he fooled around with onion garlic and chicken for half the night. Sometimes he would mistake his whiskey for onion, sometimes for garlic, sometimes chicken and sometimes for other people's drinks. He would then try to keep his own drink in a proper place and lose the onions, garlic, chicken and drinks. Then he would look for these things everywhere and find his own drink and get more drunk. If he found other people's drinks he would drink them. If he found any stuff that needed cooking he would ask somebody else to please cook. Eventually when all the children fell asleep hungry, all the women were getting cranky and all the men were making plans to move to the 24 hour dhaba on the highway, somebody decided to take over and turned the chicken into korma (yummy Muslim curry). But in all this Godzila actually looked very busy and like he was cooking. Which itself was another first timer. We could not believe, in his house, you could actually ask him where the water was and he could tell you it's in the fridge. That's because his mom always keeps things in their proper places.

There was another first timer in the party. A lot of our macho men friends who do not always bring their wives to parties got them along. That's because Godzila called the wives and girlfriends and invited them too. The men could not lie about where they were going anymore. When the guitar playing got good, all the girls started singing and dancing and there was random exchanges of good vibes between wives and the girlfriends and the husbands/boyfriends' friends. This naturally made the husbands and boyfriends a little sleepy. So for the first time, in this party, the husbands wanted to go home and the wives said, -' just a few minutes. I will have my last drink and we go.' And for another almost first time in our lives, we could not finish all the alcohol. People raised their hands up, said no the offer of the last one for the road if they could talk, otherwise quietly stumbled out of the house not disturbing the neighbours who have not been able to sleep all along anyway. And for the second time in our lives we felt like teenagers in a house party while the parents are out visiting grand mother in the hospital. As they say, 'amongst ducks, the fox is the king'. Or is it a wrong maxim I am using?

Friday, August 14, 2009

UBUNTU – a person is a person through other persons

First time in years, I wanted to be married sometimes last month. The last I felt the same way I must have been 5ish. A cousin was getting married and all the attention, the beautiful mekhela-sador (Assamese silk dresses) and the glittering jewellery she acquired, made me want marriage too.

Years have passed and I have not had to think about marriage since. (Except those moments when the boyfriends or the girlfriends wanted it and my bags were not already packed). But this time I wanted it. For a solid hour or so. Not for any romantic reason though.

Dad was unwell for couple of weeks and coping with extractive hospitals, unethical doctors and the general abysmal health care system in Guwahati made me want marriage. For the first time in my life I felt inadequate alone. The image of a gambhir (serious) yet, caring man, who is able to command respect and service from the lot of uneducated, diseased-in-the-head health care professionals(?) and at the same time provide sanity to my family came to my head. I wanted a husband like that. (Regular sex was a good thing too but let us not go there now). On my own, everything, from my small size to my singlehood, seemed like hindrance in getting assured medical treatment for my dad. Thankfully the marriage desire lasted only for that hour. But the bile bitter taste of the medical horror with private health care system in Guwahati remains.

To surgically cut the sick story short, it involved from doctor’s misconduct (reluctant and warped information + rude behaviour), overcharging, unnecessary procedures, bureaucratic inefficiency of hospitals and hospital staff to people’ jumping queue at the doctor. If it was my dad, he would give you blow by blow details of every interaction of the episode starting from the day he felt feverish and asked my mother to give him some hot water. But I am not so cruel. I am limiting the details to the professional health care system.

There was not a moment when the experience was pleasant and from what others shared with me in my time of dismay, it is not happening only to me. It is happening to a lot of people in India (and America I hear). I will not go into dissecting the health care system scientifically with data and case studies here. Yes I am concerned about the abysmal lack of infrastructure and professionals in the sector in India. These need to be addressed immediately to ensure basic health care to all, including the poorest person of the country and needs stern government intervention. What I want to talk about is the absolute absence of ethical practice and knowledge in the use of the existing infrastructure and by the existing ‘professionals’.

I will highlight a few rudimentary norms expected in an interaction between two human beings in a civilised set up that are completely missing in the health care system and sector:

Information Sharing: When two people talk to each other, the absolutely normal thing to do is to exchange information (in the form of emotions and eloquence). Conversations, for any reason transactional or and creative, requires coherent exchange of information to carry on the conversation at least, if not for any bigger outcome. But when I was talking to the doctors (except for a couple), information was the sparsest thing between us. Emotions ran bitterer, fees ran higher, but information remained meagre.

Sarcasm apart, all over the world, countries where patients’ rights charters are there, accurate and intelligible information to the patient has been recognised as a right. I remember Israel as one country with an admirable piece of document. I do not know about Cuba. When a patient goes to a doctor or a hospital, the patient or his family should be told about condition of the patient, diagnosis, treatment required, expenses and care involved, time needed etc. It is a basic principle. But I have forever heard and experienced it this time that doctors and other medical staff do not want to share information. You have to ask repeated questions to indecipherably short answers. Doctor’s come and go in seconds from your room without saying anything but ‘howzit’ and ‘have you taken medicine’. When you ask more they get irritated and evasive. Of course the scene is different if the doctor is a known one.

(Here I should put in an apology: To all my doctor friends who are not like the doctors I am talking about, you are not like that. I and you know that. But there are some and unfortunately I do not have you guys around all the time)

(And also a thank you: To all of those friends and family especially the doctors who helped during the stress)

Accounts, billing, papers: From the beginning till end, no one ever told us anything about money. When you go to get admitted you pay certain amount as registration and sometimes as security deposit. From then on till they release you (willingly or unwillingly) they do not tell you anything about money. They do not tell you how much you will be paying for the doctors, for tests, for medicines or any other expenses. You do not know how many specialists will come and check you without your knowing and charge you for it. At the time of my father’s release (nearly had to force our way out of Hotel California), they told me an amount I had to pay. When I asked for the bill I was told, “You go make the payment, we will have the bill ready.” What?!?!? I could not believe my ears and the accountant’s logic. I am expected to pay without seeing my bill?

I also noticed how much money is charged as professional fees (apart from tests of course). There were 2 resident doctors and 2 specialists who checked on my father five times a day, charging for each visit. Yes, you want competent medical treatment and care but 5 times a day? Is not it a bit too much? I would understand if the patient is in critical condition. In which case there should be arrangement for such patients to be kept in special spaces with continuous medical attention. But at other times when doctor’s just walk into your room for 5 seconds, don’t even touch you (it is important in healing, it is good energy) and charge for that specialised attention, it’s a rip-off. Also bringing in specialists (supposed) without consulting the people who will pay for it, is it ethical? I don’t believe doctors should be charitable angels with nothing but devotion to free service as their ideal. But by allowing professionals to be inaccessibly expensive to some people are we not saying the people with no money have no right to such specialised health care? Isn’t health care directly connected to life? Hence isn’t not having right to health care is depriving people of their right to life?

Respect, Etiquette, Efficiency: How is a person who has come to avail a service I offer voluntarily and is paid for it, inferior or unwelcome to me? Why would I talk to a person who has come to my workplace for work rudely?

In the hospitals, I saw, receptionists, nurses, lab technicians, whole lot of other people who work in the hospitals including the doctors are generally at best standoffish and at worst pointedly rude to people. When you come across one who is normal (not sweet but with basic respect), it feels like an aberration. What does it take to make an interaction professional if not pleasant?

Also everything takes a lot of time, if you ask the nurses or the receptionists etc for something (for the patient, not for yourself), they have made it the norm not to respond immediately. At first they will have to pretend not to hear you, then to ignore you, then to ask you to go to someone else or tell someone else to do it themselves and then eventually somebody doing it or you getting pissed off. This is the regular procedure for getting drips changed, having bandages removed, getting temperature checked if there is a fever, getting the doctor’s number and getting the bill ready etc. Isn’t efficient delivery an ethic too?

Bureaucracy, Corruption and Nepotism: How many people does it take to get a paying cabin if you are willing to pay and there is a cabin available in a hospital? I do not know. I had to call my ex-cousin-in-law (imagine how strenuous a relationship), who is a doctor at the same hospital, to get a special instruction from him to get a cabin for my dad. When I asked, I was told there is no cabin available. But I saw people checking out and few cabins getting emptied. So I called ex-cousin-in-law and told him. Within 5 minutes, while I was still standing at the same spot, they told me there is a cabin unoccupied for you. This in a private hospital where I am paying for it! There were a few other incidents that needed string-pulling. But as I said, I won’t be as detailed as dad.

I have also heard of nexuses between insurance agents and doctors (the one who certifies) where they make extra bills, get the money from the insurance company, pay the hospital whatever is due and share the excess between them. Although I did not face this personally, the doctor who was handling insurance in one of the hospitals wanted to put dad into an ICU where as my dad was ill but in no serious condition. Dad refused to go to ICU because he hates air conditioning. But the doctor could not explain why he was insisting on ICU. When I pushed, he told me there was no regular bed available so they have to put him in ICU.

This story is going long I know… but I have just been through it for the first time as a responsible (?) adult and my anger is acute. I had to get this health care thing out of my oesophagus. Besides the thought of thought of marriage has been a trauma.

What I actually want to talk about (0h, no, another long story) is the absence of ethics… (Did I say that before?)…

I also want talk about ‘UBUNTU’:

I heard the word Ubuntu within the first few hours of my being in South Africa. While passing some papers in the orientation programme that welcomed us, someone said, “pass the rest of the papers to the next one before you start reading yours. Ubuntu. Think about the next person.”

I heard Ubuntu many times in many conversations there on. Even jokes about Ubuntu. I read while Googling for this writing, that Ubuntu is an African philosophy, its origin in Bantu language. Various similar sounding forms of the word are present in some other African countries and languages. Ubuntu is an ethics that guides social discipline through human generosity.

From what I gathered from Wikipedia, between Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu they elaborated Ubuntu as –

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished...”

“Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

Think about others, think about the next person. Of course you think about yourself too. - Is this not a simple practice that would make the whole world so much better? When the person next to you, the community you and the next person are part of is not happy will you be able to be happy? If one just tries and thinks about the next person while trying to jump queue, abuse power advantages, cheat people, if we think about what the next person’s experience going to be, would it not help? Would it not make us do things differently? And I believe if we took time from our ‘artificial materialistic’* preoccupations to practice Ubuntu even for 10 minutes a day to begin with (like yoga you know) a definite change will come.

I believe the lack of elementary decency in everyday interactions can be made redundant with Ubuntu. Things can be bearably polite. And for this we do not need to need charters, policies or acts. Having them in place helps the fight. But only adherence to certain ethics can bring in the change. Imbibing them effortlessly as culture would be the ideal. Official obligation would be an acceptable beginning. But lack of respect and consideration will be unacceptable.


Practising Ubuntu will make the world perfect.

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*‘Artificial Materialism’, I think, is love for materials that is driven by forces beyond the utility and benefit the matter can render. To have material comfort, let’s say to sleep nicely, a firm, comfortable bed is enough for every person in the world. Rich or poor, under normal circumstances with normal ups and downs of life a person will be able to get a good night’s sleep from a bed that costs only Rs.2500. No micro-fiber filling and pressure-drop technology (just made it up) will be able to give you more sleep physically. Only contentment brings good sleep which we all know, no amount of money can buy. But many people buy beds that cost much more because it is supposed to beautify their bedrooms or increase their social standing. Sadly contentment does not come from beauty or sleep from standing.
This is ‘artificial materialism’- A need for materials that is artificially created by external forces like – capitalism??

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P.S. Eventually am I becoming like my dad? Am I preaching?




Sunday, May 10, 2009

Life: Animated

Past two weeks I have been working/hanging with a bunch of youngsters. Read that as, my entire time and existence engulfed in hyper energy, chaos, hormones, irreverence and lust confused as love. The number of love songs and corny love quotes I hear in an hour these days is more than the rate of India’s population growth per minute. Fortunately (?!), my youngsters are comical. In fact too comical even to my only-absurd loving self. I have not been able to have a ‘serious’ conversation for longer than two sentences in past few days without somebody saying something funny followed by hollers of laughter. And I am not complaining…

So I am in Mizoram, based in a place called Lawngtlai, travelling to places called Thaltlang, Sentetfiang, Sangau, Siachangkawn, Vartek. If you try to check these places up on the map (assuming you know where Mizoram is) you won’t find them. They are so far away from the world’s understanding of the world that (I think) they have managed to escape Google and CIA altogether. In the southern most part of Mizoram, these villages lie hidden near that imaginary line called the border between Myanmar and India.

Along with Google and CIA most of these places have also escaped things called road, water supply, electricity and sanitation. You do get mobile phones. Although you don’t really get to use them for their purpose of existence - namely calling and receiving calls. What they have in the name of roads are spaces that have been cleared of forests and curved into steep faces of rocky mountains thousands of feet high. If travelling is supposed to make you wise, the only wise thing I am learning from these travels is that may be it’s not so wise to travel here. It is for sure not wise to do so when you are being driven by nineteen year old youngsters with so much hormone that even the vehicles can run on the overflow. You can save your diesel for the future.

What however keeps me from going insane and dying of heart seizure from the fear of dying is the constantly running comic, thanks to the hormones. It is like living in the cartoon network. And things don’t die in cartoons and everyone is supposed to be mad, no?

My CN characters are a bunch of 5 boys and a girl. All on that wrong side of 25 when high speed bodily fluids direct everything physical in life. The mind has not been discovered yet. And they all watch so much animation that they have actually renamed themselves after popular animated characters forgoing the names their parents spent so much time finding when they were born. Their latest favourite is the Kung Fu Panda and so I am right now working and travelling with Master Sifu, a panda, a duck, a monkey and some other kung fu performing Chinese (I suppose) speaking animals that I can not identify.

Here is a sample of a regular conversation on a regular day at work when we are not travelling:
I am working when one of them approaches me.
“Miss, it’s too hot to wear shorts.” - The shorts wearing duck tells me, flapping its wing kung fu style.
I look very serious in front of the laptop and pretend I did not notice the kung fu flaps. - “Why, what do you want to wear?”
“Hiiiaaa hu (a kung fu style cry)! I want to wear only my undie. When you are not here we wear undies only. It’s too hot.” - Duck takes a different kung fu stance.
“Ok. You can be in your underwear if you want to. I do not mind.” - I show no signs of being surprised at the prospect of wearing undies at work. (I believe in bodily comfort and liberty after all and am also afraid SPCA might get me for forcing animals to wear clothes in this tropical heat).
Hearing my reply, the panda, the monkey and Sifu the master, all come out and stand in front of me, bow kung fu style and shout - “Khaaa ching!” (This, I have learnt from observations, means OK or happiness when wishes have been granted).

Fortunately it started raining soon and even the kung fu animals realised shorts are better than underwear because rain brings mosquitoes and other insects. I also have this sneaking suspicion that when they took the same plea to my other colleague from the world, she refused them the right. She is probably not aware of animals’ rights.

After a few days of meticulous logistical planning, designing researches and assigning responsibilities thru duck flaps, monkey jumps, panda rolls and kung fu master’s wise body contours (all done in Chinese and with appropriate kung fu chants and stances) we set for the mission. To deliver food supplies, seeds and money to the villagers beyond Google and CIA. At least that’s what I thought. What it turned out to be is a frenziedly animated comic strip where I was the only non-comical character. The only thing my character demanded is keeping a straight face. Sounds boring? I wonder how I turned out to be this way! Imagine keeping a straight face, when a 22 year old two legged panda is carrying you on its shoulders shouting ‘hiaa hu and heeii’ to pacify you (under normal circumstances you are supposed to be the boss) because you are angry that he has not done what you asked him to! Well, I can do that these days.

From the starting of the journey, the nineteen year old driver (who is just hired and not yet corrupted by popular animation) kept his head turned towards my side and had his eyes fixed on me while the winding mountain road remained unnoticed in front. After about 5 km, out of fear that he will either twist his neck or drive us down the steep crag, I asked him what was wrong. “Miss, I love you.” - He declared with absolute lust in his eyes. I sat back shocked, examining my own behaviour which might have given him some wrong signal. Am I sitting too close to him? Should I not have worn sleeveless shirt and shorts? Did I make the wrong decision to take the front seat? (Surely I did it purely out of self-preservation? Back there it is an animated zoo and I was sure one of them would have eaten me up). A few extremely moralistic questions ran thru my mind. I do not know which was more shocking. His declaration of love or discovering my own moral hang-ups. I remembered to keep a straight face and asked one of the boys to tell him to concentrate on the road and not to talk rubbish. I am older than his mother, he should know.
“Khaa ching!” - came the reply from the ninjas.
Quick exchanges were done in Mizo and kung fu. The driver straightened his neck to the road.
“Miss, don’t worry. We tell him he must not say like this to you. Otherwise master Sifu will punish him by giving him the ninjatsu treatment.”
I murmured a thank you and tried to look more serious.

After that there was much singing and clapping in Nepali with kung fu ‘hiaa hu’ and ‘aieech’ punctuations through out the 8 hours drive. I do not know from where the ninja gang learnt a shoddy Nepali song with so many opportunities to fit the kung fu cries perfectly in. It went something like this (the parts in italics are the kung fu cries and the Nepali is not exactly correct) –

Gali tere… koti ramro cho (aaa...hu)
Gali tere gapi-kapi
Tere lago aho (aaa…ho) (eeyy ho)…

The only time, I noticed, the animals would become boys is when we passed a village. They would stick their heads out of the windows and shout – “Chass! Chass!” (Translation –“Chicks! Chicks!”) and smile very broadly at the girls. Sometimes they would tell the girls how beautiful they (the girls) were. Sometimes they would tell the girls where they (the boys) were going. The good part is, the girls smile back. The bad part is, that triggers unbearable cries of boyhood lust and animated kung fu warriors.

Every time we passed a dog, they would shout, “Catch it! Meat!” followed by loud kung fu cries. The dogs, chickens, pigs and children would all scatter away to save their lives.

They do eat dogs in this part of the world and it seems to be quite a favourite. Every time I visit a village, they kill a dog in my honour. I but with all my radical ideas have not managed to digest the idea of a dog on my plate yet. And the horrifying stories of how a dog is killed and cooked are not something I want to talk about. All I am going to say is that I live petrified when I am served an elaborate meal and behave like a non-meat eating Brahmin these days. Along with fears of being eaten by animated animals, flying off mountain faces, having to be the object of a 19-year-old’s lust I also live with a constant fear of having to see Puchki’s face on my dinner plate. (Puchki is my much loved pet bitch. Fortunately she is dead now). So I have sent strict instruction before hand (although I hate sending instructions) that no one is to kill any dog in my honour when I am visiting. They can do that when I am gone.

We reached the village very late (around 8.30pm!) in the night. The whole village was dark and quiet. In the faint light of a quarter-moon, the silhouettes of the bamboo houses on stilts against the high Blue Mountain (highest mountain in Mizoram) looked like a picture from the jungle book. I felt the goose bumps coming from the chilly breeze and the smell of the forest mixed with pig sty odour. But only for a few seconds. Before my goose bumps could get into full bloom, kung fu cries shattered the silence of the night and peaceful sleep of the villagers. They were greeting the family of the volunteer in whose house we were supposed to stay. When I saw the startled faces of the volunteer’s old parents, smiling thru their shock, believe me, I wished I knew that death trick that kung fu masters can perform by which they can blow people into tiny pieces of nothingness.

Over the next couple of days we distributed food to hundreds of people; tediously collected innumerable signatures in return, socialised with the villagers while trying to fill undecipherable research formats and had lengthy conversations with village elders about life and politics. The ninja warriors kept their cries high and their stances agile. They lifted 50 kg bags, filled out forms, took photos of children and flirted with each and every girl that was of flirtable age in the village. They would carry water for the family and help the women cook at night. They made me innumerable cups of tea and served them with appropriate kung fu etiquette each time.

At night we would walk along the mountain watching the moon wash it over. Of course the animals in them would cry out animated expressions in Chinese (I suppose) when the whole feel got too good. Sometimes towards the end of the trip, I started feeling these strong emotions towards them that I often feel at the sight of real animals. (You know that feeling when you see a tiger cub?) My perfectly serious face must have slackened for a moment. Just then came a flying panda, taking a kung fu stance with a bent elbow, folded wrist, standing on one leg asking - “Miss, they kill a dog in your honour. Don’t want some?”
I got the straight face back and said, “How did you kill it?” - As if the method of killing might decide whether I want some or not.
The panda said, “Like this.” - Hitting his monkey friend on the shin and toppling him over, both breaking into hysterical kung fu cries and ruckusous laughter.
And I am glad they did not tell me the real story.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jailbirds

Currently no one is paying me for anything. I am not doing anything for money. And I am finding it increasingly difficult to avoid that unavoidable question that strangers ask you every time you meet some – ‘so, what do you do?’ Or the slightly different original version from the ones who are no strangers to you – ‘what are you doing these days?’

My definitive answers like – ‘um..uh…actually I am writing’ (a lie that has been told for so long that now its almost a truth. At least no one can challenge it) or – ‘err.. eh.. I do not know’ or even the one that I deliver with dead-sure confidence – ‘aaa.. I think I am thinking of planning to do something’ - get some of the world’s best really-unbelieving, very-insulting and supremely-mocking expressions. Some of our Bollywood actors could learn from my questioners.

Anyway, before I digress, the story I am trying to tell is that, to avoid these questions and more to avoid giving my questioners more opportunity to practice their disbelieving, bewildered expressions, I have decided to look for a job. (Of course my depleting bank balance has got nothing to do with it. It’s all, their fault). And guess what I am having to do these days? Answer more questions!!

There are two kinds of organisations in this world. The kind that pays you nuts and the kind that ask you so many irrelevant questions before giving you the job that you go nuts. It’s the second kind that is making me stay up burning my midnight fuel etc and write this thing. What I found is that not only most of these questions are irrelevant - What’s your middle name? Did you ever change your name? Do you have dependents? Have you lived in another country recently? Why do you think you should be hired? - some of them are downright personal and insulting – What is your age? What is your gender? What is your religion? Are you married or single? Do you wish to take citizenship in another country? What was your last salary?!!! The guys who devised these forms/questionnaires are lucky they do not have to ask me these things in person. The answers they would get, if they ever do, will surely be more personal and more insulting.

Anyway, the one that floored me totally is – HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO JAIL? or HAVE YOU BEEN IMPLICATED IN A POLICE CASE BEFORE? Why on earth does an organisation that is supposed to remove poverty and HIV/AIDS from this world want to know if you have been to jail? What would they do with the answer? Is your chance of getting the job related to the answer to this question? How is it related? Are you sure to get the job if you have been to jail? No?

I have not been to jail. (Yet and touchwood). I have been to worse. But the question made me think about all the people I know who have been.

My brother went to jail when he was 17 or 18. (I am including being locked up in a police cell when I say jail). He went to jail because he was a rock star, irreverent, drove a red scooter and had long hair. My police father rescued him the next morning and there was no case registered. My brother is a musician and although a pest to the family, is a generally harmless guy.

A friend (a couple actually) went to jail because she and her boyfriend were sitting in a restaurant. The local women nearby complained there was prostitution going on in that restaurant. So my friends were arrested along with other people in that restaurant although probably the only thing they knew about prostitution is that it’s bad. The boy friend got into trouble in his company and had to change his job because of this. These two friends have a happy family with two kids now.

One more friend went to jail because he was involved in an accident and the other person died in that accident. There was a police case. But he was acquitted. He is also doing well in life.

Another group of friends had to go to jail along with a baby because they were caught with some marijuana while coming back from the mountain. They were released on bail. They had a party going back to the mountains every month during their one year trail. The state has freed them with their honour intact (ba-izzat bari) and they are partying still.

Yet another friend in South Africa was in jail because he and his brothers were coming back from a party and they were little drunk. They were released later. Although given the option from the beginning, they refused to pay bribe and chose going to jail instead. One of them is a highly placed government employee and others equally well known figures there.

Apart from these friends I know fellow activists who have been to jail for promoting homosexuality (as if it needs promoting), writing sexually explicit material in HIV/AIDS educational booklet (how do you talk HIV without talking sex?), being revolutionary and hundreds for being sex workers and for fighting apartheid in South Africa. I smoke marijuana, keep funny hair, very often take implicit economic favours in return of sexual ones, a few times I have even taken sexual favours in return of economic ones. I also very often bump people around while driving and am involved in a lot of drunken driving although indirectly. I write sexually explicit materials and not always for educational purposes, am a radical at heart and believe in destroying all authority including the state. Twice I was nearly in jail. Once in South Africa getting busted for smoking marijuana in a cricket match and the other time in Mozambique for not getting our passports properly stamped before entering the country. Both the times I was detained for a long time although I refused to enter the physical prison/cell/jail. And it scares the shit out of me to think how easy it is to go to jail, how easy to get arrested and how easy never to get a job in decent place later on because you are a criminal now!!!

So what is it with our almost vulgar fascination with crime and punishment? And more with vice and punishment? In this world where most people do not have food to eat, it is not criminal for Mukesh Ambani to build a 2 billion dollar personal house in congested Mumbai where there is no place to stand in the footpaths. Nor is it criminal for politicians to use state resources and power positions for nefarious nepotismic business deals. It is not a vice to take or give bribe, to jump queue, to flash money that is obviously not hard earned, to crack bad sexual jokes about women or to crack bad jokes in general (sorry about the frivolocity, could not let the opportunity pass). In a country like India why is it not criminal to spend so much money on defence and keep a white-eplephantal military force at poor people’s expense? Why is it not criminal to privatise natural resources? Why is it not criminal to be publicly anti-Muslim? The list is endless, but what I want to go back to is that piquing question, what is this dirty titillating thing that keeps us occupied with vice as crime while actual crime continue as norms and normal?

Crime, as definitions go, is an act that is injurious to another person or a group of persons. On The Theory of Punishment (see URL below) an author defines crime - “It is a crime only when the offense is of such a grave character that its occurrence would likely cause, in the "average citizen," a horror or an extreme repugnance or disgust. But; more than that, I suggest – a crime is an act, which, while it might be injurious to a particular person (though not necessarily), is injurious to the body politic…” If this is the definition of crime then none of the offenses under which my friends went to jail is a crime. Being a rock star, smoking marijuana, drinking, doing prostitution are not acts that are injurious to others or injurious to the body politic. But all these offenses do have punishments. And once you are punished you are an established criminal. Why do we have punishment? What is it that the state and the system want to achieve through punishment?

Deference, retribution, rehabilitation and removement (as in removing a criminal from opportunities to commit crime) are some of the reasons why punishment is considered to be necessary in criminal justice system. Going into criminal justice theories now is going to take a long time. If these are the reasons punishment is necessary then a sentenced term of punishment that one criminal serves is enough to defer, retribute, rehabilitate or remove them. Those who believe in the legal system should also believe that the law knows how much punishment is needed to achieve its goals. And the organisations that are asking this question that is making me write this thing are entities that believe in the legal system. Why are they then asking these question post one has been convicted, sentenced and punished? (We assume one has been convicted). What purpose do they then want to serve by life long persecution of criminals? If their intention behind this question is not persecution then I am sorry that I am a paranoid junkie. But I have a gut suspicion things are not so simple. Why then did my friend get into trouble in his company? Why then will you not get a visa to go to America or Europe although the reason they give you might be something else?

In criminal justice theories there are many explanations as to why we use punishment and how much punishment is to be used. From public torture to rehabilitation centres, the legal system has evolved much along with civilisation. We no longer need grotesque public displays of punishment to make people realise there is a law watching us.

There are also many theories about drug use, drinking and prostitution. They all try to understand the complexities of these situations. Many fascinating theories about our fascination with vice say that vice threatens to disrupt the constant illusive homogeneity societies want to maintain. I am not going to discuss them here. This already feels like boring discussion paper.

But what I am worried about is that unless the people, who design those questionnaires, the human resource experts who think they are doing a rummy good job of knowing and selecting people to do a job and above all, the above-it-all authorities and police forces who think nothing of using redundant laws to show their power and to momentarily spite people, learn these explanations, a whole lot of us will be in constant danger. At least I will be. I am not so worried about being to jail for a few days. (I hear it will be uncomfortable but I guess I will manage. 33 years with my mother has turned me into a tough chicken). But what I fear is, having to answer that dreadful question – HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO JAIL? To apply for a new job. To go to grad school. To pay my taxes. Even worse, to get a visa to Brazil!!!! Somebody stop them….

And for the questionnaire designers’ attention a small quote that might make us think some more about crime and punishment …

“It is an inherent difficulty in the administration of punitive justice that criminal law has a much closer connection with politics than has the law of civil relations. There is no great danger of oppression through civil litigation. There is constant fear of oppression through the criminal law. Not only is one class suspicious of attempts by another to force its ideas upon the community under penalty of prosecution, but the power of a majority to visit with punishment practices which a strong minority consider in no way objectionable is liable to abuse…” - Roscoe Pound

URL: http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Essays/BluePete/PunishmentTheory.htm)

P.S. Written a while ago