Posted in Uncategorized, Politics - General

The End of Maverickism?

John McCain and his move on tracks of ending lights

Photo: U.S. Navy /, Courtesy To The Chronicle

I have been an avid follower of American politics for 20 odd years now.
And John McCain has..I guess I should say “had”..had been in the list of Top 20 American politicians, who had consistenly and continually been a dominant figure in the past 20 odd years.

As I start writing about McCain and how his presence in politics affected me over the years, I realize that..

I am sad that we have lost John McCain, the father, the family man, and a decent human being.

I am sad that John McCain has lost his battle to cancer, a dreadful disease.

I am sad that we have lost John McCain, one of the last few politicians of a tribe, which believes in respectful statesmanship across the political aisle in Washington D.C., where partisan politics seems to be the norm these days.

And yes, I am sad that we have lost perhaps the last GOP senator, who at least had the courage to “tell” Donald Trump that he wasn’t afraid of standing up to his bullying.

John McCain has been hailed as a “war hero” by pretty much every one in the country.

Ok. One notable exception. But Donald Trump not calling McCain a war hero is for a totally different reason and a nonsensically petty personal one too.

Wars and Heroes.

I am not too naive to ignore the central role war plays in the American conscience. But I will never be able to understand the collective American sentiment around war in 2018, in spite of knowing fully well and being able to completely appreciate and be humbled by American history, which shows that America as we know it now, came into being through war.

War occupies a unique place in the American society. Unique place because it is celebrated with so much national pride, all the while, people acknowledging the tragedy, hellishness and evil that come with war. Unlike most other countries, Americans love war as an essential evil. This generally explains the mass sentimental reactions of Americans from all sides of the political spectrum, when we lose a “war hero”, and the way such news generates a similar chemical reaction inside most of us whose emotions get influenced by those of people around us, at tragic times like these.

As streams of encomia extolling John McCain and his virtues as a “war hero”, as an “America hero”, etc. surround as, as political leaders from across the spectrum and from other countries send their eulogies lavishly praising McCain for his independence, courage, and patriotism, John McCain’s family must prepare for the senator’s last journey. One we are told will have eulogies from Barack Obama and George W. Bush, two of his Presidental campaign opponents, who went onto beat him eventually in the general elections and primaries, respectively.

A “War Hero”.
A “American Hero”.
A “True American Patriot”.

What exactly makes one earn any of the above titles? I do not want to indulge my urge to analyze the above in this post, but instead I would just leave this as a thought, if you are ready to freeze your war fetish for a moment or two.

How can one be a war hero when one gets to kill thousands and thousands of innocent civilians??
And what makes anyone else less of an “American Patriot” or less of an “American Hero”??

Difficult questions to answer. Aren’t they? Especially if you have to take a neutral position, not yield to the temptatin of using our own coinage of this euphemisim called “collateral damage”, and then try to justify the above labels??

McCain’s experiences as a POW, no doubt bring chills to me, when I read about them. The torture, the pain, and his refusal for an early release — they all highlight the brave man he was. And more importantly, it also highlights how intellectually sharp he was even under distress.

Since the day he entered politics, McCain seemed to have found the right balance between statesmanship, words, and knowing how to deal with the press. He positioned himself as a “noble outsider” and that worked for him. He had the right sound-bites for the right moment with very little deeds to follow up. Not many politicians could have claimed to have been in McCain’s position for over three decades, get away with the kind of gaffes & issues like he did, and still be loved by majority of the media, public & majority of politicians from both the parties. Was it all simply because of his “war hero” and POW status? No doubt, he was always the courageous war hero who put his country above politics. But there was something more to him that gave him the unique position as a politician, of not being overly scrutinized and not being judged when his actions didn’t mach his words, the kind of stuff that is bestowed upon to only a very few politicians in Washington D.C.

McCain was an intellectually sharp man who had decided that he would serve America one way or the other after his Naval days and chalked out a long term plan. That he could never get to the Oval Office may have been his biggest regret, although he would have never admitted it. But he believed in giving the impression that he was fiercely independent and wasn’t afraid to break with the party, when he had to.

I will always wonder what was so “Mavericky” about McCain when his voting record shows that he voted pretty much along party lines for more than 85% of the time. But then, I am reminded once again of the fact that McCain was good at giving just the right sound-bites. He could get away with things even if his actions didn’t measure up to his words.

For example, even though he had said things about campaign finance reforms repeatedly & why he was all for it, thus earning many likes form the left, his voting records hardly show any proof of if he meant all of or if any of what he said. He was, at one point of time, in favor of turning Roe v. Wade, but eventually moved onto a more unconvincing middle ground, where he took an evasive “leave it to the states” position. This list goes on.

Here is a FiveThirtyEight chart of his voting record.

Yes, he is marginally better than those who voted 100% of the time along party lines.

But “Mavericky” enough? You be the judge.

There were two policy areas where he took firm positions, consistenly in the past two decades or so, for which I do have a lot of respect for McCain.

Torture and Climate Change.

That doesn’t make him ‘mavericky’ for me.

In these turbulent political times, one could argue that a man of his stature could have helped keep some check on the danegrous buffoonery coming out of the White House. But with very little support from anyone else in his party, even if he were to have become a real maverick and live upto his nick name, I don’t think he could have achieved much.

I think he knew that. He knew that sometime in 2017, when he learned of his terminal illness. So, instead of fighting a long battle against the far rightisms of his party, he chose to make a lasting impression on most of us through that famous last minute “thumbs down” vote to preserve the repeal of “Obamacare” in July 2017. A political genius of sorts by a man who knew how to use that one vote to define his legacy. A true politician!!
(Some history: He had voted NO when the original Affordbale Care Act came to the senate in 2009 along with his party and between 2009 and 2011, he continued to vote in favor of repealing the act and partial amendments to the act to strip some protective regulations associated with the act.)

As the world mourns the death of a man who beleieved in independence, political camaraderie, decent statesmanship, and that rare quality of not shying away from truth, I cannot but stop thinking how such a man who was so vehemently opposed to torture, was ironically such a loud proponent of sending American troops in harm’s away, at every single opportunity he got??

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….
…..any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
-John Donne

I was driving to Chicago (from Michigan) this past Saturday evening, when I learned of John McCain’s passing. The NYT Breaking News notification on my phone alerted me.

The dystopian song that was playing in my car at that very moment was “The Dead Flag Blues” by Goodspeed You! Black Emperor.

Godspeed You! Maverick McCain.

..For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..

Posted in Politics - General

The sunsetting of a “Sunrise Legacy”

Three “K”s defined my childhood.  To be specific, I used to famously refer to them as my three favorite “க”s. Given Tamil’s unique ability (or handicap) to handle multiple sounds from the Ka (Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha) family, through a single letter, it’s a coincidence that my three favorite “க”s were also three favorite “K”s.

Karunanidhi.
Kamal Haasan.
Kapil Dev.

MK4

Out of the above three, my liking for both Kamal Haasan and Kapil Dev came truly out of my following their work in their fields. Not surprising given that Cricket and Movies were very much an integral part of my childhood. But as for my liking for Karunanidhi ….I guess it was largely circumstantial. Technically, he was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu when I was born, but that didn’t really mean much. By the time, I was old enough to know who he was, and when I really got introduced to him, a phenomenon called MGR had already arrived in the Tamil Nadu political scene and the force of that phenomenon was indomitable. So much so that by the time, Karunanidhi became the CM of Tamil Nadu again, it was literally after MGR’s death. So Karunanidhi was actually the fierce opposition leader during these formative years of mine, when I developed a liking for him. Looking back, I do not know why this man appealed to my boyhood political interests. But he did. And growing up in a small town in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s meant, you had only three political choices – MGR or Karunanidhi or None (no interest in politics).

My father had a huge collection of tapes with Karunanidhi’s speeches. These were mostly speeches from his political rallies. But boy..how much I loved listening to his speeches even as a young boy. A young boy whose knowledge of politics didn’t extend beyond being able to identify party names, symbols, and their flag colors. Looking back, I could recall how his speeches acted as the background score for my many cricket evenings or many indoor game days, that I used to play with my brother, as my father was completely absorbed by perhaps the last best orators to have come out of the Tamil Nadu political scene. If you do not understand Tamil and if you haven’t followed at least a couple of Karunanidhi speeches, you have no idea what you are missing. I cannot in any honesty equate his oratorial skills and his wit, elan, and mastery of the language, with any other politician from any part of the world.

Muthuvel Karunandhi aka M.K. Karunanidhi, better known as Kalaignar Karunanidhi was not just an orator par excellence. He was a literary stalwart. A playwright. A movie screenwriter. A true lover of the language, who pushed for Tamil Renaissance. He started as a journalist/editor at the age of 16, publishing his own handwritten magazine. One of the first essays he wrote at the age of 17, that made the Tamil literary world look at him was on “Widow Remarriage”, a true rebel of a thought in those days, leave alone what it meant for a 17 year old to pen a very well coherent argument in favor of  letting a widowed woman lead a free life, by quashing centuries old  traditions and superstitions.

He concluded thus in that essay.

“ஆகவே,செந்தமிழ்ச்செல்வா! மங்கையர்தான் நம் நாட்டின் பொக்கிஷம் என்பதை மறவேதே! அவர்கள் வாழ்வைக் கெடுக்காதே! மறுமணத்தை மறுத்து அவர்கள் இளமையைப் பலியிடாதே!”.

Loose Translation:

“My Dear son of the rich Tamil soil,
Hence, please note that women are the only treasure of this country. 
Do not ruin their lives. 
Do not kill their youthhood by denying them their right to remarry!!”

Now, political opponents of the 21 century, especially those who seemed to have gained all their political knowledge through WhatsApp forwards and twitter, have a very narrow view of Kalaignar Karunanidhi. They know Kalaignar merely as this senile politician who sided with P. Chidambaram and encouraged his daughter to collude with a few prominent names in Delhi to make the most out of the now infamous 2G scam. This post is not about that shady side of Karunanidhi’s legacy and in my opinion, this doesn’t even begin to define Karunanidhi, the leader, the politician, the administrator, and the literary star he was. That shady sub-plot of his long career is a blotch, no doubt, but his contribution to Tamil Nadu is so huge that I would call you an ignorant student of Indian politics, if you insist on talking only about that to define him. Besides, I am writing this blog post only to highlight how his legacy impacted Tamil Nadu and in the process, attempting to outline my own understanding of his legacy.

When Karunanidhi first became the chief minister of TN in 1969, he had a strong Tamil identity platform to step on, well laid out by his mentor C.N. Annadurai. In combination with Anna’s platform and Periyar’s rational movement ideologies, Karunanidhi was able to create his own and unique voice in the TN political scene. A very different one from Kamaraj’s and a much stronger one than Anna’s.

In a long political career that followed, Karunanidhi established himself arguably as the most efficient administrator that Tamil Nadu has ever seen till now. He was efficient because his leadership style involved long deliberations, and not relying on instincts. He was ok to waver on his platform, if people around him felt that something was not the best decision. He was very different from MGR in that MGR ran a populist administration, very successfully. On the other hand,  Karunanidhi tried to mix populism with his Dravidian ideologies while drafting his policies, keeping the need for Tamil Nadu to stand independent in his mind. Independent from the barrage of attacks coming from the “Hindi Nationalist” leaders from the center. His Tamil identity took front seat at all times.

Here is Karunanidhi after MGR’s death. Even an eulogy of a political rival sounded like a poetry when he spoke.

J. Jayalaitha, who became his arch nemesis for almost the next three decades or so after the death of MGR, proved to be a bigger challenge for Kalaignar to tackle, than what he may have anticipated in 1987 immediately after MGR’s death. Strangely, many political pundits dismissed Jayalaitha’s political stamina then, because she was sort of viewed as a misfit to the Dravidian movement as conceptualized by the likes of Anna and Karunanidhi. She was a movie star, who rode on her charisma and ego. Her close association with MGR helped her launch her career.

Everyone in Tamil Nadu was surprised to see that in no time, what an ambitious leader she turned out to be. So, Kalaignar was completely unprepared to handle someone like Jaya. He was used to handling  someone like MGR, a peer, a respectable colleague, and someone who grew in his era of Dravidian movement. But Jaya didn’t have any of that background. She was a convent educated woman, who grew up in a tight shell with very little exposure to the real world. The battle was on. And these two established a sort of political rivalry for 20 odd years that probably no other Indian state may have seen and/or may ever see.

Till June 2001. When the world got to see how revengeful and vindictive Jayalalitha could be.

The midnight arrest of Karunanidhi, an ex-chief minster, along with two central cabinet ministers, in somewhat of an inhuman way was, notwithstanding the circumstances that led to the charges, completely authoritarian by any democratic standards. This incident definitely redefined the rivalry between KK and JJ.  Since then, Jayalaitha continued to win more elections than Karunanidhi as long as she was alive. But purely in terms of the manner in which Karunanidhi continued to keep his political statesmanlike aura around him intact, all the way till he became physically immobile in 2016 or so, it was remarkable that only a handful of world..yes world…political leaders could have even dreamt of having.

Karunanidhi was a master politician. Not only at the local and state level, but most importantly in knowing how to work with the center. Barring once or twice, Karunanidhi always managed to come out as a winner in his negotiations with the ruling party in the center. This, in spite of his staunch anti-Hindi stance was something to be admired. Even though Jayalalitha showed how she could get her way with the center using more aggressive tactics, she didn’t earn the same kind of diplomatic respect that Karunanidhi earned over a period of time. Contrary to what people may believe, Karunanidhi was one of the least vindictive leaders I have seen in Tamil Nadu politics. I am not saying this with any bias. This was simply the case. Some people may call his non-vindictive style, political opportunism, but I think he understood the value of keeping his political enemies close enough so that he could make them his friends when the time came, which it often did.

As many superfluous and heartfelt tributes flood the pages of print, pixels of TV & internet, and  every footstep & decibel of stage, his critics, of whom there is no dearth, will hurl insults on his lifestyle that openly included living with two wives, one of whom, he sometimes referred to as the “mother of my daughter”. The truth though, is that not many could have had the courage and the openness with which he embraced living with two families, leave alone breaking the societal taboo associated with it all.

With a potential leadership battle awaiting to disrupt the stability of the party, Karunanidhi’s legacy alone may not be enough to anchor the political future of DMK.
Five decades of party leadership is a unique feat that no other political leader in India could claim to have achieved.

All roads end somewhere. And this is where Karunanidhi’s ends.

When the sun rises tomorrow without the last of the pillars that held Tamil Nadu upright till now, Karunanidhi’s legacy would have become that of the past.
A legacy like none other’s.

And many will continue to hear echoes of him saying என் உயிரினும் மேலான அன்பு உடன்பிறப்புக்களே.” in his unique scratchy voice.

எப்போதும் சிரித்திடும் முகம் –
எதிர்ப்புகளை எரித்திடும் நெஞ்சம்!

இளமை இளமை இதயமோ
இமயத்தின் வலிமை! வலிமை!

தமிழர் வாழும் நிலமெலாம் அவர்தம் மனையெலாம்
தன்புகழ் செதுக்கிய செல்வா – எங்கு சென்றாய்?

Loose Translation of the above lines:

An ever smiling face
A chest to withstand adversities

Young at heart
With a strength of the mightiest of the mountains

Where is that man who carved his fame in
Every household and every land inhabited by Tamilians..?
Where did you go?

(Above lines are Karunanidhi’s. Written after the death of Tamilselvan. How apt that I get to use these lines now!)

Posted in Kamal Haasan, Politics - General, Uncategorized

Kamal Haasan – A Changing Story

“Life is a beautiful story, your story, and the best part of that story is when it changes.”

kamal-hassan2-04-1509793215
Kamal Haasan

And who better knows how to write good stories than Kamal Haasan?

Six months ago, if someone had asked me if I would be writing a blog post on Kamal Haasan’s politics and his political entry in February 2018, I would have not only laughed it off, but also ridiculed the person for fabricating such a scenario.

Looking back, to be specific, looking back at the past two to three years of Kamal’s life, both on screen and off screen, mostly off screen (since he hasn’t been doing much work on screen anyways), I am not surprised that we are at this transition point on February 21, 2018, the day he officially starts his political journey as a ‘practicing politician’.  As I string together the missing pages & connect the missing links, it is clear that after all, this is not such an emotional, sudden, and a path breaking transition for him. If you notice the transition now for the first time, you realize that the change has been going on for a while. Like the breaking of sunlight in the morning or boiling of water on a stove.

There have been enough hints in the past six months or so about his eventual political entry. But like many, I had chosen not to take them seriously or perhaps was blinded by my primary pinhole through which I have always been used to viewing Kamal Haasan, the influential movie star, the actor, the director, the literary connoisseur, the poet, the rationalist, the social commentator, and the passionate humanist. When it became very clear that the transition is for real, the rooted Kamal Haasan movie fan in me was very disappointed.

I was worried for the man and his eventual failure in politics.

True. I didn’t want someone I consider as a pragmatic intellectual and someone I have lot of respect for, being dragged into the kind of political dialogues and tricks that I am familiar with as the norm in Tamil Nadu. I wanted to protect the man from the operational rules of the political game and in general, how things work in Tamil Nadu politics.

Then I decided to give up on my selfish possessiveness as a fan. I didn’t quite accept the transition yet. But I was hoping that this would be more of a political commentary & social critic avatar that he would take, but in a structured way, much like the Voltaires of the world.  All the while, keeping his cinematic connections very much alive. A bit more political than a hardcore activist, but a little less bounded by the rules of the game than an electoral politician. I was fascinated by the thought of how he could pull off social vigilantism using simple tools, effecting micro changes which all could add up. I was dreaming and I even imagined a few mechanisms using which he could pull that off.

That dream bubble burst in November 2017, when it seemed very clear that he was actually serious about a more direct political route. One that involved building a party ground up and eventually contesting in elections. The exact kind of politics that I didn’t want him to get into.

Fast Forward to January, 2018.

I began to feel that may be my uncertainty around embracing Kamal Haasan’s political entry was completely uncalled for. It had become abundantly clear to me that Kamal has in fact been chalking out this path for a while. All the signs of him merging with mainstream politics were always there. But I just didn’t want to look at them. These signs were in fact all the more evident in the past two-three years or so, when I try to look at his life closely.

The man is 62 now. He has gone through a very challenging and an absolutely tragic two-three years. Separating from a partner, losing his professional mentor, losing his personal mentor & brother, surviving an almost life paralyzing injury, battling with the government politically for the release of his movie, etc.

These are enough to drain a man out or enough to make a man analyze his life.

“What have I achieved till now?”

“What is left that I want to achieve?”

“And what in it is possible to achieve in my lifetime?”

It makes complete sense to me that for a man like Kamal Haasan, someone who has never been shy of voicing his opinion on societal issues, what those questions may have meant when he asked these to himself during the past 2-3 years.

Fast Forward to February 21, 2018.

Even though I am leaning towards Kamal Haasan picking February 21, 2018 purely as a matter of convenience considering all other logistical details, knowing the kind of writer & movie maker who likes to play with metaphors and symbols, that he is, I can’t help but wonder, why choose February 21 for the launch?

February 21, 1953 –  It was on this day that Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA-molecule. The Watson-Crick model is the basis for understanding human genome. (They went ahead with sharing this information officially in a public manner only on Feb 28).

February 21, 1848 – It was on this day that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published “The Communist Manifesto” in London.

These are the two historic events that may symbolize Kamal Haasan choosing this day for his launch. Kamal being a staunch rationalist, and a strong proponent of science, there is every reason to believe that the DNA structure has a significant evolutionary symbolism as far as he forming a party & giving it a structure goes. And as for the communist manifesto, it’s quite obvious to correlate the significance.

But beyond the symbolism that the day brings, for me what is truly refreshing is to see his distinct approach to the launch of his political journey thus far. I can list many things to differentiate his approach thus far, but the one thing that has been acting as a huge inspiration and the one thing that has brought Kamal Haasan’s political journey closer to my heart, is his attempt to adopt villages and model them for future. I am sure I will have many things to say about that attempt, as that concept evolves into action.

For now, the very fact that a Tamil Nadu politician has dared himself to show results of his social consciousness and concern, without contesting in an election is reason enough for me to wish him well. Not as a fan. But as a keen political observer & as a social justice seeker.

And yes, I am no longer worried for the man and the man’s eventual failure in politics. Because I now understand that he wants to rewrite the definition of “failure” in politics. 

Posted in Poem, Politics - General, Uncategorized

The Next Step

A Poem for Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration

the-next-step
Each day as we go about our business,
tweeting past our older tweets, 
RTing some or not,
about to tweet or tweeting.

Each day we encounter each other in twitter,
words incoherent or ungrammatical,
incomplete or insulted,
words to consider, reconsider.

We know there’s something better down the road.
We gather our equality, pride, liberty and justice.
To walk into that which we cannot yet see.
To find a place which is safe for
Our intelligence, our rationality and sanity.

On the brink of twitter horizon, on the cusp of fake news explosion,
May we take that next step.

[Inspired by Elizabeth Alexander’s Praise Song for the Day]

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics - General

In Defense of Free Press

I am not a journalist. I am not affiliated to any press or any media outlet.  I am just a normal citizen of this great country of United States of America.

What America witnessed yesterday (Jan 11, 2017) during President Elect Donald Trump’s press conference (the first one he had after getting elected and the first one he had in last 5-6 months) is the beginning of the slow dismantling of Free Press.

I don’t care if you agree with a particular media outlet or a particular journalist’s opinion or not. You have every right to live in your own bubble and voice your opinion wherever.
But take a step back.
Kick that apathy out of the door for a second.
Keep your politics aside for a moment and ask yourself this simple question.

Why should any responsible citizen of this democratic country normalize this? If you say we should normalize this behavior and continue to give chances to this kind of behavior, do you even for a second realize what that kind of thought process leads to and more importantly do you realize by doing so, what values you as an individual will be passing on to your future generations?

Think about it. Read the history books to understand how every authoritarian regime around the world had come about.

Authoritarians don’t have any special power to create their regimes overnight. They feel the weakness of their citizens. They exploit them to their advantage. They understand the psyche of their subjects. They play to their vulnerable sides and take advantage of them .

And in the end, it is the citizens who succumb to the appeal and in the process pave way for an authoritarian to take over their lives.  It’s us who voluntarily let an authoritarian take over our lives and let them build a regime.

It’s time now. To Fight. To Speak up.

For the next few years, or months or days, however long it takes to stand up against this man and his administration, which will do anything to crush the values of democracy that this country built 240 years ago and the ones that we continue to make better every single day.  Because these values matter.

Let’s not forget that.

Fight for your right as a citizen and Fight for your fellow citizen’s right, equally.

And stand up for FREE PRESS.

Down with Authoritarianism and Down with Trumptarianism. 

Posted in Donald Trump, Humor - General, Politics - General, Satire

The Facebook Cabinet

A sneak peek into the first 7 days of President Donald Trump’s administration

If what we have seen of Mr. Trump till now is anything to go by, then we can expect the 45th President Elect of our country to disrupt how day to day activities of his White House administration are going to be performed. We have already gotten a hint, that he is going to do away with day to day press briefings. This means the entire White House press corps will be out of job. This also means there won’t be any WHCD, or will there be one without the President?

Also, my bet is on Trump to influence everyone in his cabinet to use social media for day to day administrative activities.

Here is a sneak peek into the first week of what the cabinet meetings/decisions/interactions would look like after Mr. Trump takes oath.

Jan 20, 2017

Mr. Trump, sends out a tweet in the morning, about how excited he is, how much he is looking forward to making America great again and why moving into the White House from Trump Tower is such a depressing thing to do for him. Then, he and his entourage, including his wife, children and grand children, make a grand entry into the National Mall area, either on a helicopter or on a horse drawn carriage with confetti. His hand picked cabinet is already there and they all are getting introduced to each other.

Then the oath ceremonies take place, including Kanye West singing the National Anthem. Ted Nugent follows it up with a two song performance where he uses an AK-47 as his percussion instrument. Then Andrea Bocelli brings the house down with 5 songs, that only about a dozen people seem to enjoy.

In the evening, Mr. Trump attends two presidential balls, both of which are telecast on facebook live. Kellyanne Conway is responsible for using Mr. Trump’s phone to do facebook live at both the balls. The evening ends on a happy note for team Trump.

Jan 21, 2017

The 45th President starts his presidential duties..

By 7 AM, he is getting on the nerves of Elaine Cho, the Transportation Secretary.

Jan 22, 2017

Rick Perry, the Energy Secretary, is itching to get some action.

Jan 23, 2017

Betsy DeVos, the Education Secretary has some big plans and she has been waiting for this day to make this announcement. As someone who has “devoted her life” for education and children, this is something she has really thought through.

Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt, the EPA Chief, much like Betsy DeVos, has spent most of his life working on Environmental policies, especially developing policies to bring catastrophes of the highest magnitude to this planet in the shortest possible time.

Jan 24, 2017

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, someone who is not new to oil, is already working hard and has embarked upon his first official foreign travel.

The Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin is ready to make a big policy announcement as well. He has been working behind the scenes on this for almost two months and it’s time now to make it officiail.

Jan 25, 2017

Must be a slow day by Mr. Trump’s cabinet standards.

Jan 26, 2017

This is the day, all of America would be shocked and surprised. VP Pence, decides to share the big news. One that fulfils a campaign promise. Yes, that’s right. Mr. Trump actually fulfils a campaign promise in 6 days. Just 6 days.

Jan 27, 2017

The first week is almost over and who better to round it off than Tom Price, the Secretary of HHS? Another campaign promise fulfilled. Whoa!

Jan 27, 2017

James N. Mattis, the Defense Secretary, has been asked to deal with some “domestic” issues. But no one really notices the massive national security risk this may have imposed.

Towards the end of the day, the White House counsel steps in to declare the results of the first week.

What a week!

Note: If you are wondering how those ridculously high numbers of likes for certain posts or comments came about, here’s the secret…
Shhhh!!
It’s the Russians. They hack into everything.

Disclaimer: This is satirical work. All images were created using a photoshop like tool and the views expressed in the images are fictional.

Posted in Politics - General

The Woman, The Mark, The Legacy

And in the end, she couldn’t write a colorful ending to her own story, in her own terms, just how she would have liked.

J Jayalalitha (1948-2016)
                                                J Jayalalithaa (1948-2016)

Was 1981.

We were attending a cousin’s wedding in Madurai if I remember correctly and I was 8 years old. The wedding entourage from the bride’s side, including my family, were all put up in a series of tiled roof cottages, not too far off from the Madurai Meenakshi Temple.

The Fifth World Tamil Conference was happening in Madurai. A quick google search tells me that it was between Jan 4 and Jan 10. Our stay in Madurai had to be in that date range, because, more than the huge hoardings bearing the sign “உலகத் தமிழ் மாநாடு” along with the larger than life size images of MG Ramachandran (MGR) the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, what I remember distinctly more, was the generous placements of larger than life images of this one popular movie star, who was officially not a politician back then. She was a star, someone who had built a great on-screen chemistry with MGR as a co-star, playing mostly as his love interest, thus earning the goodwill of thousands of fans of MGR, the politician’s, but then, she was not even a registered member of AIADMK. Her role in the conference was that of an entertainer. Jayalaithaa and her troupe performed a stage musical drama called “Mathura Nayaki” on Jan 9.

And I was in awe of the swarms of people stretching kilometers, making a beeline to enter the open air stadium, where the conference was being held and I have strong memories of those tall floodlight arena under the dark sky. Amidst all that, somehow those huge billboards, with her images splashed all over, almost on par with MGR’s images, made a huge impact on me as an eight year old. Because, till then politics in Tamil Nadu to me, meant only MGR and M.K. Karunanidhi.

Was 1987.

Dec 24. I was in Nagercoil spending my Christmas break with my cousins when we heard the news. MGR, the man of the poor, the leader of the masses, the single most charismatic leader that Tamil Nadu had ever seen and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had died. We had known this day was coming for a long time. Almost for 3 years.

By then, Jayalalithaa had already announced her arrival into politics in style. MGR appointed her as the Propaganda Secretary of AIADMK in 1983 (கொ. ப. செ.), a title not so familiar in the political circles back then. Soon, she contested in a by-election in the Tiruchendur constituency (an hour from Tirunelveli, where I was then) and became a member of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. She became a Rajya Sabha member in 1984.

She either must have exhibited an extreme sense of acumen for the world of politics that was there for everyone to notice and MGR was the first one to tap into it or MGR must have really had the vision of making her a successor in line, because he saw the potential of grooming someone like her in the political world. Don’t know which was closer to being true, perhaps both.

Now, let’s take a step back and remember, that the Tamil movie industry was not the friendliest places for a female actor back then, that too for someone like Jayalalithaa, who didn’t have a ‘male’ personal guardian or someone as a pillar of support from her family, as long as she was acting. So, to make a mark as a lead actor, without compromising on your values and to have your personality stand out as a female actor, must have taken some fortitude on Jayalalitha’s part. Of course, her fluency in English and fair knowledge of a couple of other languages must have given her an edge to stay clear of the competition, but at the end of the day, it took her strong personality to swim through the male dominated world.

Politics in the 1980s, in the post Annadurai era, when the Dravidian movement was at its peak, was a very interesting place to be in. For the uninitiated, let me say this..Unlike politics in the western hemisphere, politics in India cannot be placed on a linear spectrum ranging from “Liberal” to “Conservative” in traditional Left to Right terms. Not now. And definitely not in the 1980s. And especially, politics in Tamil Nadu, since Indian Independence, has always been very different. So, in that context, Jayalalithaa’s entry into politics was phenomenal. Just as it should have been. Just because she was a woman.

But…
Call it the innate nature of Tamilians to accept a popular movie star as a capable politician without any questions.
Call it the love and adulation for MGR that the people had which translated into love and adulation for his lady love on screen.
Call it the simple admiration for someone MGR picked as his protege in politics.
Call it whatever you want.
The fact remains that Tamilians had the maturity, knowingly or unknowingly, to break the glass ceiling — just…like…that. And she did it with their help. And how!!

Barring the drama that ensued between Dec 24, 1987 and the time in 1989 when she was elected as the opposition party leader, she had complete control of her party and the party cadres throughout her career till Sep 22, 2016 when she was admitted to the hospital.

The reason why the politician in her shone was because she shaped her career herself after 1989. She was on a mission. She had a target and she worked towards it ruthlessly. Yes, she trampled on many people and sentiments in the process. But that was her. Comparisons ranged from Imelda Marcos (for her obsession with materials and for her authoritarian leadership style) to Margaret Thatcher (for being a strong willed woman like an Iron lady). But the truth is that she was not like any of them. She was one of a kind. She was a charismatic, intelligent and a focused leader with tons of fortitude. Fans and Detractors would agree that the most extraordinary thing about her was that she was a very refined and a sophisticated absolutist who managed to do all that she did in a democracy. As she famously said once, Indian states are nothing but glorified municipalities, she stood up for Tamil Nadu’s state rights at every moment she could. She was one of those few Chief Ministers in the country who stood up to the centre irrespective of the ruling party in the centre.

Unlike the Dravidian politicians of that era and specifically the Dravidian leaders such as EV Ramasamy (Periyar), Annadurai, MGR and Karunanidhi, to name a few, who went onto either become Chief Ministers of the state or ended up having an influential role in the state, Jayalalithaa didn’t have a similar background. She was born in an “upper caste” family and she was brought up in an upper middle class background. She didn’t experience the struggles that the other Dravidian leaders experienced in their early lives and she didn’t even grow up in Tamil Nadu for that matter, where the Dravidian ideologies were flourishing. So, there is a lot that can be pondered about the “Dravidianism” in her.

But she understood the essence of the Dravidian movement — which was to stand up for the poor and the “lower caste” people of the society. Keep fighting for them. Keep fighting for their welfare. If Tamil Nadu’s healthcare is a pride of the state, If Tamil Nadu’s educational record is still considered high when compared to other states in India, if Tamil Nadu is still on top of child immunization rates in the country and if Tamil Nadu still figures in the top 5 states when it comes to social welfare spending percentage (mainly education and healthcare), then you can pretty much attribute it all to the Dravidian parties’ policies, in particular Jayalalithaa’s. Now add to that, the innumerable welfare programs that were introduced for poor and women in particular, including the “Amma Unavagam” (a chain of restaurants run by the government with an aim to serve healthy, clean food for a nominal price for all customers), you know why she was revered the way she was.

To paraphrase something she said in an interview, her life could be divided into three phases. The first phase, influenced and shaped by her mother, the second, influenced and shaped by MGR and the final phase, one that was completely self made. It was during this phase, she, as an active learner and observer, took it upon herself to stand up to her critics quite comfortably, while she methodically executed what she wanted to do quite mercilessly.

Notwithstanding all the corruption charges, the disproportionate wealth assets lawsuites, etc., it is irrefutable that the legacy she has left behind simply through her achievements is huge. A legacy far larger than anything that movie star image which helped her take that first step into politics could have helped her. Step by step, she created a brand new path for herself, which many women can follow now.

Thousands and Millions will ride on her legacy for years to come. I guess very few in politics can stake that claim anywhere in the world.

And for someone like me, who grew up in the shadow of Jayalalithaa’s rise in politics and managed to see her till the end, there is no better way to say what her passing away means to me, than to simply refer to it as a void that will never get filled.

Never.

Posted in Poem, Politics - General, Uncategorized

Staying’ up High!

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Staying up High

Cracking at the dawn
The daylight that’s gone
Walking
down the lane
Felt a tingling on my cane

Pitching for a cutter
Forking up a dollar
Teeming with delight
Trying to stand straight


Weakening of my knees
And the trembling brings some trees
Bringing it Bringing it Bringing it down
The
Earth is Bringing it Bringing it Bringing it down

Running for my life
Jumping in Strife
Thrusting up my chest
I am giving up with no protest

Searching for one life
Looking up the dead

Losing all my hopes
Will I be tossing all my ropes?
Mangling of the steel hive
Pulling out none alive

Staying up Staying up Staying up High
We all (are) Stayin’ up Staying up Staying up High!!