Age of Kali – Valentine’s Day

So what would you do for love?

In India, Valentine’s day is pretty big. Indians are pretty romantic in the cheesy sort of way. Diamonds, Flowers, Cards, Stuffed Animals… The whole shebang.

But one of the sadder sides of this is the backlash. You see in a country whose movie heroes regularly fall in love, there are those who don’t like the concept that people can love things. And yes, I understand that these people sound like the villains from My Little Pony… but this is a major problem.

I didn’t blog yesterday because I was busy on a highly romantic (and highly cheesy and nerdy) date with my girlfriend. She was stuck in the UK, I was stuck in India so we made a meal and sat down to eat on Skype. It’s silly but free and fun and a nice thing to do. I mean when people say Valentine’s day is a commercial trap, my response is “So is Christmas, but I still notice you scarfing down turkey with the rest of us…”.

However there were hundreds of thousands of couples like ourselves who went out and about on dates to demonstrate their love. And they ran afoul of one of India’s best kept secrets.

It goes by the name of Saffron Extremism. Hindu extremists harassed, beat and in one case forcibly married couples. In a lovely little twist one such outfit claimed that Valentine’s day lead to rape (rather than the culture of moral policing by people such as the Bajrang Dal, BJP, Shiv Sena and Ram Sena).

Oh cheer up! It’s better than it used to be. This year police defended the couples, however in 2009 they actively beat and attacked couples in support of the fanatics. A marked improvement.

Voilà la mariée!

Well done to France for the legalisation of Gay Marriage (oh noes!) despite the attempts of the naysayers. An interesting if slightly late Valentine’s Day present to the people of France.

What does this mean? Well? If you believe the hype this means that France will no longer be known for the City of Love and instead bring about the destruction of all love. And maybe the summoning of hurricanes and tidal waves. In addition the Catholic Church will be ruined as everyone knows that Gay Marriage is possibly the only thing on earth that could constitute a Weapon of Mass Destruction in both ways.

On a more sensible note. Well done guys, human beings need to be treated as human beings.

A Further Fundraiser For Christina Stephens (Urgent – Pass it On)

If you haven’t heard it elsewhere then there is news about Christina who blogs at What Would JT Do (as Ziztur) and indeed blogged here for a short period of time.

Basically? She injured her leg quite badly and as with all complex fractures there is a chance of complications. So rather than undergo years of surgery and physiotherapy to regain the use of her foot she has opted for a procedure called an elective trans-tibial amputation.

In layman’s terms? She is losing her leg below the knee. And she needs help with money. So help her out… This her Paypal donations link. (fixed the link!)

Greatest Show on Earth – Kumbh Mela

If you hadn’t already heard, I was at the Kumbh Mela for 3 days.

What is the Kumbh Mela? It’s arguably the biggest religious event in the Hindu calendar occurring every 12 years and it’s a ridiculously oversized event. This year 30 million people converged on the town of Allahabad.

I was planning to cut lose and photograph stuff but since the camera was damaged (don’t worry, I have earmarked a nice little camera to pick up when I am back home in May.) but more than an equaliser the mela is an entirely different world of faith, poverty and humanity.

IMHO it is poorly managed. It’s mass of humanity is astonishing. 30 Million People is a enough to populate most countries let alone a small town. The facilities are lousy. The streets are filthy.

I have said this to people everywhere but here especially I mean it the most. In India you will see the absolute best of humanity and the absolute worst of humanity. I shared food with someone who saw that I had worked 8 hours straight, they found out I just finished my exams the day before and treated me to a little bit of their dinner and some sweets they had. I saw rich people help poor people when they wouldn’t normally have in any other part of India. I saw the weird side of Hinduism in the Naga Sadhus (not to be confused with the Naga Khmer).

I also saw the bad side of it. Open toilet facilities that were little more than holes in the ground (let’s just say I didn’t really eat for 3 days lest I required to take a poop as the toilet facilities terrified me). Many of these were not even covered so they spread flies and disease and were often in full view of public access (even the women’s facilities).

And it was weird, I never got asked for money. Just for food and water. At the Kumbh money has no meaning since water and food are more valuable. A couple held onto my legs as I walked recognising the white coat and stethoscope I carried to work. I didn’t understand what they wanted then but someone later told me that their child had gotten lost and they hoped I could have found it. It sounds silly to assume that a doctor (in their minds) somehow had the power to find their child where others had not in the seething mass that was the Mela.

You can share what water and what food you had but you would get mobbed. There are too many to share with and you do what you can. I heard the people who had helped feed the pilgrims often fed them by the thousand. I didn’t keep count on the number of patients I saw but on day 1 I slept like a brick when I finished my shift. This was the India that people never see because it was so poor.

There is nothing like this in any other faith, Hinduism’s unique position as the last “old” religion left means it is unique and different to the ones we are familiar with. Check out these photos. They are absolutely stunning. (I know many of you don’t click links but Do It… Consider this Doctor’s Orders)

So I did something weird, on my last day there I woke up early and told myself that I would get to sleep on my flight and made my way down to the river where I was to take a bath myself. I certainly looked the part of a pilgrim with my hair shaved that morning in just a pair of trunks. It was cold and it certainly wasn’t pleasant or clean. The water is murky and polluted. Many pilgrims were drinking this stuff and I knew by the sheer number of cases of diarrhoea and dysentery that it was a “poor idea”. To think that this would wash your sins away is laughable but I still did it because I could.

I left feeling ambivalent.

And then I saw the news. In order to control a crowd of poor pilgrims who broke through barriers that had overcrowded them, Police responded with a batons (in India they are called lathis) which caused a stampede killing 32.

Those who lost loved ones poured the water they had collected from the sacred river at this most sacred of events onto the bodies of those they lost because they believed that it would bring them back to life…

A Voice for Me/n – I Cannot Respect You and the People Who Associate With You

You are judged by the people you associate with. If your friend is a thief and you regularly protect your friend’s thieving habit then you are abetting the theft. Now that’s a crime. Free speech is a lovely little thing. Freedom of Speech however comes with Responsibility of Speech.

You are free to say anything you like. You are however responsible for what you say. You cannot claim to be a defender of free speech when you refuse to take responsibility for it. Some places have strict rules with regards to free speech and free speech within context. Even bastions of free speech like /b on 4Chan have “rules and limits”. The limits to free speech exist to encourage dialogue because dialogue without rules is what we call shouting loudly.

I cannot respect the people who associate with A Voice for Men. Every week they manage to do something worse than the last and all I can remember are the quotes from the people who said that it’s “Free Speech” and “Not Everyone Is Like That” and that “I should give people a chance to prove that they aren’t callous misogynists”. [Read more…]

In The Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud

If you haven’t already heard…

Earlier today seismic activity in North Korea was detected. North Korea has tested (yet another) Nuclear Weapon in it’s game of brinkmanship vs. the world. Let’s just say everyone is pretty fucking hacked off about it since the biggest problem with a North Korean nuke is the belligerence of it’s owner. International Brinkmanship is the survival strategy of North Korea and this is just another tool in their arsenal.

Their entire role in the world is to threaten death and desolation on a grand scale if we don’t pay attention to them. And they have effectively solidified their rule. Now the only change that will occur to North Korea will come through mass uprisings rather than the barrel of an American tank.

Is that for the better or worse we will never no, just that the world has unfortunately become less safe.

I am interested in perspectives. I know I had a couple of Korean readers before (I noticed the hits on the blogspot blog…) so I am asking a genuine question.

I am fond of perspective. You see, we often try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes and sometimes we are incredibly wrong. I learnt a lot about Afghanistan and the Jihadi mentality by talking to afghani refugees.

So I want to ask a genuine question. What do you think about your neighbours and their latest toy? What do you think should be done or should have been done?

Age of Kali – Vishwaroopam and Censorship

So I managed to watch Vishwaroopam. For those who are unaware of the “controversy”, there is really none. But basically? A bunch of Islamic and Muslim organisations demanded that the movie be banned or heavily censored because of it’s alleged portrayal of Islam. Since the material involved a Jihadi plot out of Afghanistan, it kind of discussed islamic terrorism and the jihadi lifestyle.

There are however idiots. The kind of idiots who ban freedom of speech, the kind of people who threaten Taslima Nasrin and Rushdie.  Shame on India for actually censoring it.

I kind of agree with Taslima. The idiots who wanted to ban this boiled down to “Stop Portraying the Taliban and Jihadis as Militant Fundies Who Believe in Islam. People will think Islamic fundamentalists are all wankers.”

Stuff that was censored? Killings of american hostages, prayers recited, prayers recited during executions, whippings. You know… these are things that have happened in real life. It’s funny that a guy getting blown in half and his head and torso landing in a bloody heap is shown in bloody and loving detail but not events that have actually happened. I wrote about a  woman executed due to a faulty legal system created by fundie Islam. Hanging people from Cranes was done in Iran. Beating (even killing) people who danced and sang has occurred in real life. There have been child soldiers thrown to the teeth of the American Warmachine ™ with nothing more than a Soviet Era AK 47, inferior ammunition and promises of paradise. Fundamentalist Islam is the absolute fucking nadir of humanity. It is anathema to humanity and pointing out the vicious nature of such a faith is not wrong. Particularly when pointing out that there are muslims who think as we do. That the fundies are the nadir of humanity and that they are poison to Islam.

And it shows. The people who censored this rather silly movie. There is a random Samurai Sword Fight and a ludicrous wire fight scene… This is Die Hardesque (Maybe Die Hardersque) not Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy…

It’s actually amusing. The idiots who whined about it have done more to harm to Islam than the atheist who made the movie because they indulged in the very behaviour that the Director (and Hero) were trying to portray as bad. The “Fundie” Side of Islam. Because no matter the attempt to portray the Jihadi in a sympathetic light, it fails miserably because of the idiots trying to censor the message.

Bad Points? When Will Indian Cinema learn that you do not need a love interest to make the movie work. Particularly a “floppy useless one”. His wife felt like she was cellotaped into the plot. Stop It. It’s stupid, it actually makes the movie feel stupid. It’s a stupid trope in western cinema, it’s an even stupider trope when done in a medium that doesn’t portray women well.

Want to know something funny? Katherine Bigelow’s Hurt Locker was released here without ANY cuts and that’s portrayal of Islam was far worse.

The weirdest thing is? The cuts they made to the Tamil (native) version actually made the movie “better” particularly if you know why they made them.

There was a scene where they hanged an innocent man (the Hero’s spy gear got this man in trouble). The original had them recite the Koran (it’s clear what he is reciting since the reciter is a freaking priest!) while the man about to be hung incorrectly begged for his life. Now the imam in the scene speaks the verses silently while the prisoner begs audibly. It’s a surprisingly artistic scene despite the relatively non-subtle tone of the movie. But I realised it was actually the censorship in action…

Knowing that did more damage to Islam and did more to cement the image of Islam as the knee jerk religion of fundamentalists than the actual movie itself. It turned a scene about what he has had to do in the name of being a spy (a surprisingly subtle thing in an indian mainstream movie) and gave it more power and made it about the cultural insanity that is Fundie Islam. Knowing why the Imam has no voice does more damage to the image of Islam than any other part of the movie.

Because to the fundamentalist Muslim  the words of a terrified man about to die in a brutal manner is not as insulting to them  as the portrayal of themselves.

Go Watch It. It’s not thought provoking, it’s just a Tamil blockbuster. What’s thought provoking are the changes to it.

Faith, Abortion and the Hippocratic Oath – Mississippi

Mississippi has not much to be proud of. It’s the state that leads the US rankings in teenage pregnancy rate due to a juxtaposition of faith, economics and social issues. It’s a state proud of it’s “Christian Morals” and it shows.

In April 2012, there was only a single abortion provider. The Jackson Women’s Health Organisation has struggled to stay open since then. Every other provider of post-coital contraception and abortion has shut down because of a backdoor law. Well, two of them to be precise. Gov. Phil Bryant (from the party that starts with an R and ends in an N – Surprised?) signed a law in place requiring any doctor performing an abortion to have hospital admitting privileges. The second law allows hospitals to deny and to refuse to provide a medical service based on religious grounds.

It’s either really Christian or the hospitals take the Hippocratic Oath extremely seriously. [Read more…]