What’s with the sudden increase in the incidents of shoes being thrown at politicians all around the world? Recently India has witnessed a rapid rise in such incidents, most of the targets being politicians. The latest incident is that of a school teacher throwing his shoe at Congress MP Naveen Jindal. Has it now become the choice of protest for us? Has burning effigies gone out of fashion? Why the hell am I posing so many questions?

What started out as a moment of boldness by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw his size 10 shoes at George dubya Bush as a farewell gift is all set to metamorphosis into a national phenomenon. And luckily the targets have been well-chosen. Politicians. Now that is a group disliked and hated by members of all communities. And with the general elections coming up, the emotions of the public are likely to be on the edge. And that is why I fear we could have a tipping point very soon. Iraq is already training the next generation of shoe throwers who can aim better and harder. If the politicians don’t get their act right, the day is not far when the audience will let out a shower of dirty muddy shoes on the local neta when he comes out the next time promising bijli, sadak, and pani or asking for votes.

And as usual the MBA part of my mind strategises how I can make money out of it. I’m wondering whether it would be a good idea to buy shares in footwear companies. If the demand for such shoe hurling increases, then companies will have to ramp up production and I will make some serious capital gains. Or should I start a shoe polishing shack near the venues of election rallies. I can encourage people to shine their shoes before they let their anger out on the netas. For 5 Rs more, you can get a premium shine with extra polish to get some extra shine (on the neta‘s face).

However you can count on the cunning politician to convert even this ridicule into a thing of pride. They’re most likely to say, “People have thrown shoes at me and at my opponents too. I respect them for that. But what I am here to proclaim is that I have been hit by your shoes for the most number of times. That shoes shows how much you love me. If you elect me, I promise to open new shoe shops in your town. We can have annual shoe flinging competitions where the best thrower will get a chance to campaign for me in the next election. So I ask you to please vote for me.”¬† Remember to press the right button. Our election symbol is shoe polish. You provide the shoe, we provide the polish.”

To paraphrase the whole trend, I will borrow a dialogue from Frank Miller’s 300

Common Man – A thousand billion citizens of the Indian Republic descend upon you. Our shoes will blot out the sun
Politician – Then we will fight with your soles (souls?)

I just finished reading the book “In spite of the Gods – The strange rise of modern India” by Edward Luce. I had eyed this book since a long time and had delayed buying it for some reason. Luckily, I found a second-hand copy of the book in Pondicherry. I had started reading the book on my way back to Pondicherry, and to my utter surprise (and shock), the first paragraph itself had a mention of Pondicherry and the community set up near it, Auroville. The introduction talks about the author’s meetings with people living in Auroville and how India is known mainly for its spirituality. The author seemed none too amused by this impression of India and that is what he sets out to change in the book.

The author, Edward Luce, covers all the major areas of concern for India, which include social, political, religious and economic. The structure of the book itself is such that each chapter focuses on one burning issue from these field. Luce covers India pre-independence, the timeline of the major political parties and the rise of the newer parties. Religion ocupies a central position in Indian households and he focuses on the largest two religions in the country and the problems which have arisen between them as well. He goes on to analyze India’s past relation with the US and the Soviets, and the current equation between India-China and India-Pakistan.

The book ends with the issues India faces and the opportunities the country has to become a major power in the 21st century. According to the author, India would do well not to become complacent of its newfound growth. Only if it deals with the issues in a proactive  manner will it manage to reach the level which is being expected of it. And one of the important ways is by the electorate to vote in such a way which brings the political party most capable of bringing about the change which is required. This endnote becomes all the more relevant in light of the up coming elections.

What I really liked about the book was its comprehensiveness in all the issues it tackles. Luce does not refrain from calling a spade a spade. The interplays between rival political parties especially SP vs BSP is wittitly depicted with Amar Singh again making a fool out of himself. Luce has described the rise of caste politics quite vividly. The book goes beyond slums and spirituality which is all what India is made out to be. I totally agree with the author’s belief that India is much more than a few squalid slums and some old-age Vedic literature. Luce makes the book more interesting by its witty jokes and humourous anecdotes he has come across while living in India.

The cons of this books are minor, yet I’ll list them down all the same. More space could have been devoted to the rise of IT in India. I know this industry has been written to death but in a book about the rise of modern India, IT should deserve a considerable share. Luce could also have researched more about the rise of manufacturing in India which is all set to accelerate in growth once the global economy gets back on track. Also I noticed that the author seemed to have a very critical view on Bollywood where he describes the typical Indian movie as “a blend of brilliantly choreographed titillation.” Agreed that song, dance and rain play a major role in Indian movies, but lately the film industry has also produced very good movies. If anything else, the author would have had good words for alternate Indian cinema. Luce also had a negative view of the nationalist political parties in India, which for all pratical purposes, means the BJP. The author himself admits to this bias.

All in all, I found In spite of the Gods to be a quite comprehensive read about modern India. The book goes beyond a superficial introduction to the country and dives well into some of the major issues affecting the country in recent times. It explains patiently the contradictions which India faces at each and every step of its journey. Luce has painted a masterpiece about one of the fastest developing nations in the world. Which brings me to my next question – Why do foreign nationals, be it Edward Luce, Gregory David Roberts or William Dalrymple make for better writers about India than us Indians?

Gulaal - Movie posterI just watched the movie Gulaal by Anurag Kashyap. This movie comes almost simultaneously with his previous movie Dev D, which was a modern day adaption of Devdas. Although I found Dev D quite average, I must say Anurag Kashyap has bounced back high with Gulaal. Anurag Kashyap has faced a quite rocky path while making movies. His first couple of ventures had been plagued with problems from the beginning. Black Friday and Paanch were both banned in India for a variety of reasons. His anger and defiance against traditional Bollywood is visible in his films. Gulaal beautifully describes the power play involved in politics in a fictional setting in Rajasthan. The way in which college level youth is recruited and “sponsored” for representing a particular party is shown nicely.

The two major themes of the movie are the struggle for power and of betrayal. And this is done at multiple levels. Just when you realize a particular character using someone for his own ends, you find that he is being used by someone as well. The story is long and follows a winded path, though it keeps you interested. There is only one point of confusion in the story. The speech which Kay Kay Menon gives is rousing no doubt, but the question remains in my mind what was he fighting for? A united Rajputana? His actions and words didn’t give any indication that he was trying to do that.

Kay Kay Menon delivers a powerful performance as always. The rest of the cast play their roles with vigour and sincerity as well. Especially commendable are the performances of Deepak Dobriyal (Bhati), Piyush Mishra (Pruthvi Bana) and Abhimanyu Singh (Ransa). Aditya Srivastava (Karan) plays the quiet brooding role of the scheming pupeteer with ease. Even the dude playing the role of half man-half woman was scary sometimes, funny at times. The weak link though in the entire cast is Raja Chaudhary who plays the character of Dileep Singh. He seemed to falter at parts.

The music and songs of the movie are quite hummable as well. Most of them are modified versions of old patriotic songs, but nevertheless they are quite funny. Especially, the song Ranaji is a hoot with its wacky and irreverent lyrics.

All in all, Gulaal is a well researched and brilliantly directed venture into the dark side of politics. It shows how blood and money are of no value when fighting for the seat of power. The movie makes for worthwhile viewing and makes you wonder how many such power plays will shape out during the upcoming elections.