Monday, February 4, 2013

Too old for this stuff...

This weekend, I was watching a late night movie with Dhanno ki Amma.

The 1993 made  movie, 'In the Line of Fire', is an action thriller about a veteran secret service agent, Frank Horrigan (played by Clint Eastwood), who lost president Kennedy to an assassin in Dallas. Horrigan is tormented by an ex-CIA assassin gone nuts, Mitch Leary (played by John Malkovich). Leary wants to assassinate the president at the time, and Horrigan would do everything humanly possible to stop him.

The movie has a pretty intense scene, where the president hits the campaign trial, and a disguised Leary sits in the audience. At an opportune moment, Leary bursts a few balloons with a contraption he is carrying, driving the security detail into a frenzy. When people realize that it was a false alarm, there is a lot of yelling and cursing, directed at Horrigan. At the end of the long day, Horrigan is shown having a drink with his colleague, Sam Campagna.

Campagna tells Horrigan, "Dammit Frank, you are too old for this shit. You should retire."

At this point in the movie, I already had a couple of drinks, and I was nursing a third one. At the same time, I was looking up some interesting information on the movie on my laptop, which is quite old and moody, to say the least. Since I wasn't having much luck with the computer, I shut its lid down with an audible snap, and said something under my breath, that I probably shouldn't have.

As I placed my laptop next to my wife's, which is also quite old, I swear that I heard it say to mine, "Dammit Frank, you are too old for this shit. You should retire."

Now, I am just trying to figure out who named my laptop Frank.  I always called it Joe. You should know the names of your drinking buddies.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Islands in the ocean

Every year, the last week of January provokes many thoughts. And every year, around this time, I get to collect those thoughts and analyze them, together.

It all starts on the 23rd of January, the birthday of Netaji Subhash, one of the prominent freedom fighters of India, who took a stand opposite to that of Mahatma Gandhi, that freedom could be won by Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (insistence on truth) alone. Netaji went on to raise an army of Indian expatriates, establish a free Indian government in exile, and win Indian territory back from the British in battle. He was lucky to raise the tricolor in free India, a few years before our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru could. Many believe that had he succeeded, Netaji would have become to Indians, what general George Washington became to the Americans -- the general on horseback, who took on the mighty British empire, and chased its redcoats out of his country.

A few days later, on the 26th of January every year, along with millions of my fellow Indians, I celebrate the founding of our republic. It is an extremely important day for us, because we celebrate our constitution, along with the rights and the freedoms that it guarantees. Many believe that it is on the 26th of January 1950, that we truly became independent, with our own president as the head of state.

And, then, just a few days later, along with countless other Indians, I mournfully remember the day that Bapu was assassinated. On January 30, 1948, a Hindu fanatic, Nathuram Godse, shot Mahatma Gandhi during an open prayer meeting. And with that, died the person that Netaji Subhash had called the father of the nation, in spite of the many disagreements that he had with him.  

Bapu and Netaji

At the end of the week, like countless other Indians I try and imagine what India would have been like, if Netaji had won the war, or, if Bapu had been alive a little longer. Unfortunately, neither of them had much say into what India eventually became. In the final days of the second world war, Netaji disappeared without a trace. And Bapu, fell to an assassin's bullets, two years before our constitution came into force.

Many times, when I complain about the tyranny of the majority that India has come to be,  my friends, who know about my libertarian leanings, call me a jackboot sympathizer. I make no secret of my admiration for Netaji Subhash, but I admire him for only one thing. I don't think that anyone in our history has had the amount of selfless love that Netaji had for India -- and no one gave so much for India and got so little in return, like him. But, unlike what most people think of us, libertarians do not believe in "jackboot dictatorships." And, I certainly do not believe that India would have been a better country, if it became a military dictatorship following its liberation under Netaji's command.

Just like libertarians do not believe in the "tyranny of the majority", we do not believe in the "tyranny of the minority" as well. Libertarians like small governments, and they believe in the power of the individual to determine the liberties that they should have. One could say, that some of us are borderline anarchists. But, one should know that anarchy is not necessarily the same as lawlessness, but simply, less power available to a repressive state to implement, what it sees as the law.

And that brings me to Bapu, and what he thought India should have become.

Many believe that Bapu was a libertarian. If you want to take on a mighty empire, and rip it apart, you have to strike where it hurts the most. Bapu's movement had questioned the legitimacy of the British empire to rule by law, when simple law abiding subjects had to face the full brutality of the state for peacefully making a point. Bapu had cleverly put anarchist sentiments in a country, which was never completely unaware of  them. Bapu was against the state that he managed to dismantle -- and so, you could perhaps say, that he was a libertarian.

Bapu wanted an India, which was very different from the India that finally came into being on republic day. He dreamed of a state that was a loose federation of villages and city-states, sharing a common military and foreign policy. Bapu's India would have an executive president, directly elected by the people, and unlike many executive presidents the world over, he or she would have minimal powers.

Bapu knew that Indians liked to organize themselves as families, clans and tribes. He understood very well that a pathan from the northwest frontier had nothing in common with a naga from the north eastern frontier. And so, it was futile to try and subject them to a common set of rules along with half a billion other Indians (at that time). It would have been best for people to locally manage their business, with their own cultural identities, religious practices and languages. For whatever reasons that might be, India never went that way.   

In the last sixty or so years of the republic, we have simply tried to become a replica of the west. We started out by adopting a Westminster style democracy, which works well for a few islands in the Atlantic, but miserably fails for a country of  India's size. Then, we turned it into a monarchy of sorts, which maintains all the trappings of a republic -- some say, that this evolution is a close reflection of our feudal mindset. At various times, in various states, we have been ruled by people who believe in a religious theocracy, or in a dictatorship of the proletariat. And, on many occasions, many of us have longed for an American style presidential system, where perhaps, we would be able to elect our very own "emperor" in a country, that seems to need one. Quite badly.

Assuming just for a moment that Bapu's dream of a loosely bound confederation of villages was indeed what modern India became, I keep wondering what things would look like. Perhaps, our villages would be much richer than they are, perhaps our people would be much more involved in the governance of their cities. Perhaps, we would not have separated ourselves into three nations, two of which are at perpetual war with each other. There would not have been a need to separate, as Hindu and Muslim villages would exist side by side with each other, each applying its own justice in the area that it ruled over. Those, who did not like a particular village, would always be at liberty to move to another. The country would simply have too many choices, where something unique existed for everybody.

Perhaps, a libertarian India of Bapu's dream would have been like islands in the ocean, at peace with each other. As many islanders will tell you, there is always plenty of fish to go around, and coconut rum to drink. And at the end of the day, the sunsets are beautiful. Always.