(Wo)man’s Inhumanity to (Wo)man

Someone (Bill Blakemore), in an article about the The Shining, had said that it is a part of a multi-film oeuvre ‘about mankind’s inhumanity to man that he’s [Stanley Kubrick] been making at least since Dr. Strangelove’. In this post I will write about another movie on this topic, but directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (as I had promised once).

The movie is Malena, and some reviewers might call it a movie about erotic romance. While that is not completely wrong, I think the main theme of the movie is definitely not erotic romance. Nor is it the ‘sexual awakening of a boy entering puberty’ as one reviewer suggested, even though this is one of the themes. For me, it is quite clear that the central character of the movie is not the voyeuristic boy who is getting ‘sexually awakened’, but the woman who is the object of his (distant) love and who does not seem to be aware of him. She is the central character because it is she who is the centre of everyone’s attention in the town in which the movie is set, not just of the boy. The fact that the movie is named after her, supports my view, but my view is not dependent on that fact alone.

She, i.e., Malena (played admirably by Monica Belucci, whatever you might think of her other performances) looks like ‘the goddess of love’ or even ‘the goddess of sex’ as someone mentioned (I can’t give the references, because I had read all those reviews long ago and right now I am not in the mood to search for them again). But, for the town’s people in general, she is like a beautiful witch. And, accordingly, is constantly hunted and ultimately hounded out like a witch. For the simple reason that she is different from others and, what is an even bigger crime in our civilization, keeps away from others; doesn’t mingle with the mob. Keeps aloof. That’s unpardonable. That she is amazingly beautiful so that all the men (and boys) of the town are obsessed with her, and (like the boy narrator) not just fantasize about her but talk about her all the time. And they don’t say very nice things when they gossip about her.

The women are even more obsessed about her. First, because she is more beautiful than them; second because their men are after her (even though she doesn’t encourage any of them), and third because she keeps aloof and doesn’t put herself in her place where she won’t be (so to say) above themselves. For example, they probably wouldn’t have so much ‘pathological’ hatred for her if she kept her good looks somewhat hidden and dressed badly and became part of the gossiping community and by following the social norms, sent definite signals that she doesn’t think she is better than them.

You see, it’s not enough that she doesn’t send any signals that is she is better than them. She has to send clear signals that she doesn’t think she is better than them. That’s a social law. She could only be exempted from this law if she were something like a royalty, a princess, or if she were a powerful woman actually above all of them in the sense that she had power (legal or otherwise) to punish them, rightly or wrongly. The film is set in Cicily of the Fascist era. So, if she were the female Il Duce, or the wife of the Il Duce, or at least the wife of a powerful general, she could have been exempted from this law.

There is another fact which makes her a witch. Her husband is a soldier and is away during the war. She lives alone. And then the news comes that her husband is dead. In the extremely patriarchal society of which she is a member, another social law applies: no husband, no status. A society in which you ‘measure yourself’ in inches and there is no chance that you can go beyond ten. Your human worth is less than ten inches.

Her father is alive, but he lives in his own house. What’s more, he is deaf and a teacher in the school in which the boy protagonist studies. So we are again and again shown scenes of the classroom where Malena’s father is teaching and the boy students (I have seen the movie twice, but I don’t remember any girl student) are all the time competing with one another in saying the nastiest things about Malena while addressing her deaf father who is teaching them. Finally he is sent an anonymous note saying something like Malena sleeps with everyone in the town, after which even the father breaks his relations with his daughter. Malena used to go to her father’s place to take care of him, but suddenly one day she finds that he has locked her out.

Then the father is killed in an air raid and there is the funeral. The life goes on in the same way. By which I mean that the men, the women and the boys are making the same kinds of comments about her during the funeral ceremony while at the same time rushing to kiss her and offer their ‘support’.

Since she doesn’t really have the power to punish them and is only above them in the sense that she is more beautiful and more of an attraction to the men, she becomes the witch of the town. And, following the age old traditions of witch hunting (which are still present in all societies of the world), she is hunted and ultimately hounded out. She does return, but only when her soldier husband comes back alive from the war (who was thought to be dead) and brings her back with some anonymous help from the boy protagonist. He loved her and she loved him too, even if she was considered a prostitute by the people of the town (or village, if you please). The fact was that she was pushed into prostitution after a long spell of hunting and hounding and social boycott where no one would even sell her fresh food. She had to go to absurd lengths just to buy food and the men who obliged her, wanted to be paid back in the currency of her physical beauty.

As the war ends and the ‘liberating’ American army marches in, we are shown the culmination of the women’s hatred for Malena. We know that there are many prostitutes in the town, but as soon as the war against Fascism ends, the women celebrate the event by dragging out Malena and almost lynching her. They tear her clothes and cut her hair, leave her bloody and half naked and direct her to leave the town. (Having no other option, she does leave the town later). When there has been enough beating and the women stop, we see her shouting for the first time, facing the men who had been silently watching the whole thing. I don’t want to describe this, but as I have come so far, I can’t avoid it. Her shout or cry or whatever you call it expresses all the anguish which has been accumulated over the long preceding period. The shout is probably addressed to the men, asking them (I imagine) whether they don’t have anything to do or say about what is being done to her, when till now they were all so obsessed with her and wanted to be her lovers. In fact, earlier we are shown an almost hilarious (it would be hilarious if it wasn’t tragic) competition among the men for the claim of her affections, right in front of her door. The men actually fight over who is Malena’s lover and the fight is broken up by their wives. Malena had no direct or indirect role to play in this incident. And, of course, the public opinion decides that the culprit was Malena. Believe it or not, a court case is brought against Malena about this affair.

This court case is just one of the humiliations which she has to go through daily. Even right after the opening scene we see a bunch of teenage boys waiting for Malena to come out and to stalk her right through her walk. This turns out to be a daily routine, and the boy protagonist has an advantage in this because he has just got a bicycle. Mercifully, he is a bit discreet in doing this.

(More to come…)

One More Assassination

I just found out that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated (along with 20 other bystanders), just days before the elections that were supposed to bring back some kind of democracy to our neighboring country.

Another mega-crime for which we might never know who was really responsible, but many people will be punished anyway, directly and indirectly.

As a blogger said: Another horrible news for that region (i.e., South Asia).

So it goes. On and on.

I wasn’t exactly an admirer of Benazir Bhutto, but that doesn’t make the news any less horrible. In fact, for me it is particularly depressing since the events that were among the first to make me politically aware included the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, along with the emergency in India, the 1977 elections and the death of Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash (some say due to sabotage). Is the world really marching on the path of progress, or is it just moving in circles?

Is someone suggesting that South Asia has become an Assassination Super Power or the Assassination Capital of the world?

Are You a Pervert?

You might have been a pervert all this time and have not known it. I have just discovered that a very large portion of the population is perverted. Thanks to India’s Fascist Hero, we now have a very quick test to determine who is a pervert and who isn’t. Here goes:

A pervert is a person in whose mind a thought can come that Narendra Modi is growing bigger than his party.

Yes. It’s that simple. And you never knew it. I guess if you have been following the elections in Gujarat, the chances are that you are a pervert. But don’t worry, you are not alone. Almost everyone who has been following the elections must have had that decisive thought.

It definitely came to my mind.

I think I can live with it.

Of course, we have had other such simple tests provided to us by the institutional family to which the Fascist Hero belongs. This particular test is actually a special case of a more general test, which is even more simple and goes like this:

If you don’t agree with the above mentioned institutional family (that would be the Sangh Parivar) or with any member thereof, then you are a pervert. Some other terms may also be used for those who fall under this category, e.g. impotent, hij***, ran***, chh***** etc.

It is according to this philosophy that the Fascist Hero’s close mate Praveen Togadia had called the ‘secularists’ impotent after 2002 Gujarat elections (Hindustan Times). And Sadhavi Rithambara had called Muslims hij***s (Father, Son and Holy War). Now, as the family has moved up the political ladder, the preferred term is ‘pervert’. Comes with sophistication.

Ours being a truly secular country, these simple tests of perversion are also used by the could be Fascist Heros of other communities, including Muslims.

Say Bravo! to the great psychological insights of these could be or would be or just be Fascist Heros.

V for Victory!

There is another good news: The Gujarat Model is now going to be implemented in other states too. A Brave Mussolinized India is not far. Brave massacres of defenceless people. Brave fake encounter killings. Brave pulling outs of foetuses. Brave burning alives of children. Brave public rapes and then killings of teenage girls. And more.

And we were all just sitting there being perverts, not taking part in any of this.

Let’s have some shame.

Communal is Secular is Communal

In the last post I somehow missed including this gem of a quote:

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) congratulated its alliance partner BJP for its performance in the Gujarat, with party working President Sukhbir Singh Badal saying: “This is people’s rebuff to Congress’s attempts to communalise polity.”

No comments.

No, I won’t comment.

No, no, I won’t comment.

So the Il Duce Goes On

Gujarat can be called a peninsula, just like Italy. And Gujarat is going to retain it’s Il Duce for another five years (at least). We know that India is more than half a century behind Europe in many things, so it quite fits in.

Well, I for one don’t think much of this latest news. The simple reason being that irrespective of the results of these elections in Gujarat, India’s Mussolini is definitely not going down for some time to come. It doesn’t matter that India is a secular socialist democratic republic. It doesn’t matter that the Narendra Modi Party (NMP) is unabashedly fascist. It doesn’t matter that the Indian People’s Party (of course that means the Bharatiya Janata Party) is only abashedly fascist till now: Till it gets completely taken over by the NMP. It doesn’t matter that India is currently ruled by the secular grand old party of the Independence Movement fame. It also doesn’t matter that India is what is being called ‘an emerging economy’.

Neither does the fact that India is an IT super power (whatever that means). Nor does the fact that India is supposedly going to become a developed country by 2020.

And, of course, it doesn’t matter that the NMP (along with the BJP) had presided over the state sponsored killings of more than two thousand people and much else.

It does matter though, in a very post-modern absurdist way, that the gory details of the killings et al. were very recently ‘exposed‘ (the very fact that an expose was still needed tells you a lot about our country and about the world in general). Many are saying (not incorrectly) that part of the credit for the Indian Il Duce’s victory goes to this ‘expose’. Don’t get me wrong: I believe the expose may be a positive thing in the long run. And, no, I don’t really think the expose was meant to benefit the Gandhi quoting Fascist Hero.

Since I don’t think the current results matter much, as the NMP would have continued on its path of glory regardless of victory or defeat in these elections, I don’t have much to say about the results. I do, however, have a lot to say about the rise of fascism in India.

I won’t say all that right now. I will just keep saying something regularly (as before), as should be done I think.

Still, there are some interesting things which one can note:

  • More people are now acknowledging that Modi has national ambitions and those ambitions are not quite misplaced.
  • The BJP lawyer leader Arun Jaitley made this interesting comment:

    The Gujarat results have given a fresh breath of life for UPA government as Left parties will now think twice before withdrawing support fearing the resurgence of BJP.

  • The most well known Indian left-leaning (formerly leftist) newspaper The Hindu reported that “Modi’s stunning victory wins him accolades from one and all“.
  • ‘Having failed to oust Modi, a stunned Congress congratulated him for a “great, remarkable victory”… BJP leader L K Advani described the Gujarat election results a “turning point” for national politics with his party signalling a “comeback”. The party talked about the possibility of a bigger role for Modi at the national level.’
  • ‘As soon as it was clear that the 57-year-old leader would retain chief ministership, Modi received congratulations from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who called him.’

    The gentle Manmohan Singh. The acclaimed economist Manmohan Singh. The neat and clean Manmohan Singh. The liberal Manmohan Singh. The apolitical Manmohan Singh.

    He won’t offend a fascist on the rise.

  • ‘AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa on Sunday said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in the Assembly elections had brought hope to people that “India could still be saved from the clutches of unscrupulous power mongers.” … “Your spectacular victory has brought hope and cheer to the vast majority of people in this nation who now believe that all is not lost and that India can still be saved from the clutches of unscrupulous power mongers,” she added.’[1]
  • ‘Modi referred to the huge electoral success as a victory for the 5.5 crore people of Gujarat and a “positive mandate” that defeated the campaign of negativism.’[2]

    That should clear your doubts about what is positive and what is negative.

  • Arun Jaitley also had this to say:

    The BJP’s victory in Gujarat, I believe, is based on three things. First is the organization and ideology of the BJP which continues to be vibrant and relevant in the state, secondly, the leadership which is there in the state, gave confidence to the people that it was honest and development oriented and thirdly a good government which delivered on its promises.[3]

  • BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad made these comments[4]:

    its resounding victory in Gujarat was a reply to “pseudo-secular forces”, who it alleged kept attacking Chief Minister Narendra Modi at the drop of the hat.

    … the combination of BJP’s ideology, cadre support, Modi’s image as a strong leader who can deliver and his all-inclusive development agenda were the reasons for the party’s good showing in the polls.

  • Note the modifier ‘all-inclusive’ (emphasis added). I wonder what ‘all’ means.

  • Some of India’s IT savvy public had these comments to make.
  • There is seemingly a widely held opinion that ‘For the Congress it seems, the ‘Maut Ke Sauadagar’ comment clearly backfired’[5]. So now you know that if you call the person who supervised the killing of thousands of people and is proud of the fact (not counting the fake encounter killings of criminals) a merchant of death, you are going to be backfired upon.

Just remembered this: India is also peninsular. And an ancient civilization. With an ancient city for the capital. Is the originator of multiple religions and philosophies and arts and movements.

Quite like Italy.

Secularism sucks.
Communalism rocks.
Liberalism is gay.
Right wing nationalism is cool.
Leftism is super gay.
Fascism kicks a**.

It’s a Desi Cartman’s day.

‘Just Believe’ doesn’t Help Much After All

Yesterday I wanted to see a movie: a not too depressing one. When I looked through the collection, I came across Finding Neverland. I wasn’t sure whether I had seen that movie before or not, though I remembered seeing Finding Nemo: I had seen it just a few months ago. Since there weren’t many options, I decided to check out this movie.

It turned out that I hadn’t seen it. So I saw it. A movie about a writer? That was enough incentive, but there were also Dustin Hoffman and Kate Winslet. Not necessarily in that order.

To be frank, I didn’t dislike the movie as it went on. However, I started getting uneasy as the words to the effect ‘Believe! Just believe!’ were uttered frequently. And these words were more of a summation of the theme of the movie than a minor highlight. The viewer was not being asked to believe in religion or God (at least not explicitly). So the cause of my unease was not related to believing in religion or the God. The author was asking other characters and the viewer (or the reader) to believe in fairies. In a place called Neverland. Yes, I know the name of the place was meant to be ironical, but the exhortation of believing, just believing, was quite genuine.

I also know that everyone needs the enjoyment offered by some escapist fare at least once in a while. It can even be a positive thing when your spirits are so low that you have to take a break and forget about the depressing reality for a while. Even the most ‘cynical’ or nihilist or ultra pessimists have their own kind of escapist fare. And so do those who believe in directly facing the reality and trying to change it for the better, even if very slowly.

The sincerity of the writer and the other characters of the movie was making me like the movie, but the mantra of ‘Believe! Just believe!’ was putting me off.

I should confess here that by the end of the movie the escapist philosophy was getting a slight edge over my usual outlook. That set me wondering whether escapism may not be a valid way to improve the quality of life. I am what I am because I am constantly susceptible to these self-doubts. Even about the most fundamental issues. Earlier it used to bother me, but now I know that it is not such a bad thing. I mean I know this from my personal knowledge, experience and reasoning, not from what others have said. Learning from personal experience is different from just being told about something. Anyway, I was wondering whether I was wrong in dismissing many escapist works of art (whether high brow or down to earth).

It just happens to be that J. M. Barrie is one of those rare ‘great’ (English language) authors whose books I have not read so far. So I started reading about him (and the movie and the play on which the movie was based) to resolve my transient doubts about my stand against escapist works of art.

And what do I find? On the Wikipedia page itself there was this bit of information:

The lives of the Davies family were rife with tragedy following the film’s optimistic ending: George died fighting in World War I in 1915, Michael drowned with a friend at Oxford in 1921, and Peter grew to hate his identification as “Peter Pan”, eventually committing suicide in 1960.

So, the reality before the play (Peter Pan) was written was not as bad as shown in the movie, but the reality after the play was written was as tragic as it can get for a family of the class to which the Llewelyn Davies boys belonged.

Evidently the ‘Believe! Just Believe!’ philosophy didn’t prove very helpful. Even to the family for which (or based on the members of which) the play was written.

The world may be as bad as I thought it was, but at least I am free from this new unease. Now I can again enjoy escapist fare once in a while.

Without Just Believing.

News Flash: Modi the Writer

Ladies and gentlemen, the predicted doomsday may actually be the day of salvation. The person I had called Another Mussolini has recently written a story about a dying cancer patient.

I am too overwhelmed to write a review of this story. You will have to judge for yourself. For that you can start with this summary and then, if you are brave enough, you might want to read the story itself.

Did someone mention bleeding hearts?

What’s it to be Lord: Hail Another Mussolini?

The first phase of voting in Gujarat is over. The second phase of voting will take place on Sunday. Exit polls are predicting a swing away from the BJP ([1], [2], [3]). But this may be misleading because this round was in areas where the BJP, or to be more accurate, the NMP, i.e., the Narendra Modi Party was expected to perform less well.

What if the final results are in favor of the BJP? Or the NMP? That would mean five more years of fascism ([1], [2]) in the state of, well, you know whom. I don’t want to be the millionth (or the 100 millionth) person to say this. The last five years have seen the release of many more books etc. and even movies about the former icon of Gujarat, including Lage Raho Munna Bhai. So movies, even the mainstream super hit movies, don’t really have that much influence.

And the mainstream vibrant-and-free media of our unified diverse-and-the-largest democracy are in their favorite mode of semi-denial. They are pretending that it is just Gujarat where fascism has become the most popular political system. They have accepted that this has happened in Gujarat because fascism in that state is now so blatantly visible that there is no way of denying it. They won’t stop to consider whether what has flooded Gujarat is already creeping into the neighboring Rajasthan or not. If not other states. They don’t really (want to) think that India can ever become Mussolini’s Italy.

Yes, the same Italy. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink.

But there are some who realize that what has happened in Gujarat under our very democratic system can also happen all over the country. Though even they are pretty sure that once it happens, it can be reversed easily. In time.

As for most of the electorate of our socialist republic, the only relevant question is: Does it really matter? And the answer is: Not really. Because nothing bad is happening to us right now. That’s all that matters. The future will be taken care of by The One up there. Or The Many up there: most of us are not monotheistic, remember? We don’t need to worry. Just try to make more money and get more power for the great civilized institution of family. Family in the literal sense, not the metaphorical. The (Italian) Mafiosi sense. Our own immediate family. Once that is done, we will think of the relatives. After that, if we can spare some time, we might think of friends. Once in a while we might think of our caste. Then may be of religion. (The last two may be swapped, depending on the fashion or the season). On 15th August and 26th January we might even think of the nation. Country? Humanity? Earth? Oh yes, the words that you use in an interview to the media or in a public talk or in a school essay. Are they really supposed to mean something?

Myain oh myain!
Exclaims Eric Cartmyain.
These things really suck!
Yeah, these things are so gay!
Say Kenny, Kyle and Styain.

I can visualize the collective persona of that part of the society which would like to just continue the routine and get on with the Business, driving in a car in search of the next bounty, turning his (or her) head skywards and asking, ‘What’s it to be Lord…?’

Proxy Post (1)

In this post I will just reproduce something written by someone else (with a bit of editing by me). I am posting it because otherwise it may not be posted at all and I think it may be of interest to some of us (where ‘us’ means researchers, especially in NLP/CL). So here is the first proxy post on this blog:

To Publish or Not to Publish

A friend of mine (let’s call him John Gourmet) recently had a major research paper rejected. The paper was central to his Master’s thesis and contained substantial innovation by all accounts (besides ‘impressive numbers’). John was so dejected that he mailed all his co-authors and supervisors that he wants to leave the whole publication business: forever. An excerpt:

I don’t bother about acceptance or rejection, but they completely ignored the novelty in the approach to solve the problem … I am really disappointed, sir. I am not interested in writing or participating in any publication work anymore …

That paper does not matter a lot to Gourmet as he will be defending his thesis soon (he has other publications) and is working in the industry. However, one of his co-authors replied:

… if you work more and come up with something more fundamentally innovative, your paper is likely to be rejected, and your own less good paper might be accepted … Don’t just stop thinking of publications. Without them you can’t survive in the research world. It’s like passing exams. Exams are stupid, you have to pass them if you want to do certain kind of work.

I would not discuss the importance of publications in the research world, nor the relevance of publications to a researcher. I have not seen enough and to some extent believe that publications are not exactly like exams. But the exam part of the latter statement really caught my attention. Which brings us to the reason why I am writing this.

Anybody who decides to go for graduate school should write something known as the General GRE. While it has some utility, I seriously wonder whether it significantly helps in separating the wheat from the chaff. I have known people who study for a single GRE test (which supposedly tests only basic verbal and analytical abilities) for as long as 3 years. How can one calibrate the performance of such a candidate with somebody who went through the testing pattern only a few times? It should be noted that the GRE is not supposed to be an exam which tests your preparedness or knowledge, but basic cognitive abilities. And students around the world (especially from India and China) regularly outscore their abilities (and their previous scores) by preparing long, very long.

Anyway, the reality is that we all have to face it: the standardized testing system. While many similar things in life can be hacked, standardized tests are far more susceptible to it. When I decided to go for graduate studies, I knew that I would be too engrossed in technical work and my research. Instead of studying for a longer period, I took out some time to figure a way out of studying longer. I prepared for around 3-4 weeks (only few hours daily) and got the scores I wanted.

Coming back to John Gourmet, one of the chief reasons why he is prone to not go for PhD is that he too is afraid of the standardized tests. Now he is afraid of the publication process too.

Just a reminder: This is a proxy post.