Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Diwali Dhamaka

Diwali Dhamaka

India celebrates countless festivals that  endorse the community's sense of a collective. Festivals are in that sense inclusive and generate a shared space. This is true of Holi, Ganesh Chaturthi,  Dusshehra,  Durga Puja,   the collective mass at  both Eid and Christmas. Most festivals are followed by community feasting in large numbers. This is a fun filled space, with the bustle of people, the rustle of special or new clothes, the excitement of doing something different from the everyday and the delight of eating wonderful food with friends, acquaintances and families. Spectacle centred festivals  such as the staged  Ramleela,  the bringing down of the  putlas of Kumbhakaran, Meghdhoot and  Ravan during Dushshehra,  the display of stunning  Durga idols or the humungous Christmas trees that  dress up for Christmas, each of these occasions  would be unimagineable without the collective participation that is so evident. In fact, this holds true even for low key festivals such as Teej, janmashtami and Onam. 
I wonder year after year why Diwali has always been an exception to this rule. Yes, people do meet and exchange gifts and sweets and this is bumper season for corporate gifting, but celebrations remain largely personalised and exclusive. Card parties are played in closed circles. Everybody decorates their homes with all manner of electric lights, flowers , rangolis and candles .Each household has its own  exclusive  Lakshmi puja  and  a private diwali dinner, which is punctuated with  extravagant  firecracker displays. In households recently acquired through the grace of competent builders,  the first Diwali in the house is celebrated as if firecrackers would be shortly going out of fashion.   Never mind if the lights and air and excitement is snuffed out for all the neighbourhood plants, trees , animals and people.
 Since many laws have been implemented to encourage civic-mindedness in the Delhi citizen, why dont we add a law  mandating collective firework display  only in public maidans? It could be organised in a manner similar to other community festivals. This would not only bring back the spirit of collective participation, but will  leave our  eardrums  and  those of our children intact, our lungs more capable,  our hearts less subject to palpitations, our pets  more calm,  our vehicles more safe, diminish  threats to life and property that  unsupervised playing with fire causes, rekindle solicitude for the old and the infirm and those who seek quiet as well as happier  MCD karamcharis the morning after! Thus we could achieve that perfect state of collective beatitude that all religions purport to create लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवंतु ll which translates as  the future possibility of happiness for  every living being in the world
Ratna Raman.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anti-social Algorithm

Yesterday i saw a movie called  The Social Network preceded by all the razzmatazz that movies are presented with nowadays. You drive to a mall, eat at the food court and post-meal plunge into a movie which is often an escape route to another world. The mall with its escalator starts the process as you are transported to a surreal world of upper-end shopping and a palm tree paradise where you can  eat all kinds of food for a price.
 The movie begins with a young woman and geeky young man in a crowded pub, having a post-modern conversation. The young man wants to be part of an exclusive social group and the young woman wants out. Post split up, she retires to her room while he sprints back through the long corridors to  blog bitchily about her and simultaneously create a site where sets of twin  pictures of all  women candidates at Harvard  are uploaded for a comparative vote  by Harvard males on female hotness quotient. The site is so popular that  the entire  university's computer system crashes. An investigation is held and the young man is suspended for six months. The young woman,  hurt and humiliated, gathers herself  up with dignity and moves on.
  Young man, Mark Zuckerberg is sought out  by three upwardly mobile Harvard males with  an exclusive network  idea for  fellow students. Zuckerberg goes one better  He ties up with  friend Eduardo as business partner and  Sean Parker of  the 90s Napster  fame provides cutting edge inputs. Facebook is born in the year 2004. The rest, as we all know, is history.

 Facebook feeds into the social demands of  the very privileged young  and gives them an outlet through which  to construct  their virtual identity. It moves very quickly from  exclusive social networking to  a slow unfolding of the narcissism and  exhibitionism that is a major  preoccupation with people who occupy Ivy league colleges slated as being among the best places in the world. This Peter Pan world where you never need to grow up is now international and intercontinental.
 Facebook has iconic status in our  modern cosmopolitan  consumerist society which willingly engorges on everything that is offered, advertised or flaunted.  Yet, what is so different about this whole new world?  The change is  possibly in the external details. We have moved from the streets and alleys to the virtual page. The life lived outside of the electronic page  however hasn't changed. Greed  abides and so does the lust for power and control. Women are objects of desire and occasional arm candy and essential eye candy. Men with exceptional  good looks, athletic or intellectual potential, don't really require to acquire much else, let alone a humanistic education. They engage with very little outside of their own self-image and decadent lifestyles. Such are the new  Cyber lords who have replaced  earlier feudal lords.Otherwise this is a  dog eat dog world where someone has to be top dog .The trick is to be cool, stay cool , market the coolness  at the highest premium  and hit the jackpot with a new brand.
Friendship is en passant. Friends and relationships are set adrift whenever  expedient. Codes and rules arent written.  Players settle things among themselves principally in hard cash. Money Power runs this game and  fame reassuringly frames itself around successful lingerie brands and  facebook frivolities. Losers throw themselves down bridges and winners take to revenge, alcohol, wild music, sex and dope. This is the new global world where Dorian Grays take to Stocks and Shares and pop goes community and collective welfare.
 The world  has shrunk and so also has the  human imagination. Once our mythical heroes battled dragons, supplied fire and water, ploughed and tilled land  on behalf of the entire  human civilization. This is so not happening here!   Human potential  has diminished and the human imagination  is now self serving, meretricious, cynical and facile.
This is the sad part. Exposure to technology driven knowledge highways is still an empowering and enabling source for large sections of the world.  For the founders and users of facebook these insignificant details belong to a world which  exists way beyond the fringes of their virtual world. Hopefully, this is an ill conceived and incorrect assumption. A different note is struck by Erica, the young woman who breaks up with Mark. She is a facebook user but wont accept his request to be her electronic friend.   We need to believe that more dissenting voices such as hers do exist,  even if they remain outside of  facebook