Friday, May 31, 2013

Opposition Days

[This piece originally appeared on Logos]

Let the Opposition set the agenda for a few days every session, so that it does not disrupt the whole of it.

Democracy is majority rule. Whoever has the majority in the Parliament forms the Government. If all key decisions are taken by a majority vote, how is the Parliament (which the Government controls) supposed to provide oversight and reprimand the Government for its excess and wrongdoings? The Government can sit smug on its benches and tell the Opposition to first 'go get the votes' and then we will talk. 

This, like most introductions, is an over simplification of facts (done to grab attention, mostly by less accomplished writers like myself). But we have to concede that in a system based on majority vote, the parties in minority find it very difficult to get their voice heard, let alone getting their demands met.

Opposition Day is a day when the opposition parties in the Parliament, set the agenda. Any session of the UK Parliament has at least 20 Opposition days. In Canada the number is 22. It might seem a procedural thing at first, but it is so much more than that. Being able to control the agenda gives the Opposition a much better shot at cornering the Government into discussions and debates that it is trying to avoid. If these days are divided up amongst the Opposition parties, even smaller parties will get a chance to make the Government answer its concerns. In a media driven democracy like ours, the Opposition needs to also 'look' like it is opposing the Government. Routine protocols like Question Hour, Calling Attention Motions and raising motions under Rule 377, though important, are not very effective tools to play to the gallery. And let us be clear, playing to the gallery is not some superfluous thing which can be ignored, it is a necessary and critical part of a politicians job profile.

There are other interesting customs like Questions to the Prime Minister, where the PM is required to answer the questions himself (Tony Blair is said to have feared the House of Commons, thanks to it). The effectiveness of such conventions is difficult to ascertain, but without a doubt they provide the Opposition with a legitimate way, if nothing else, to vent its anger. And who knows? Maybe this can lead to a little less chaos and adjournments and little more of sane debates on critical legislations.

(This line of thought came about in a post-lecture discussion about the workings of the Indian Parliament with MR Madhavan of PRS Legislative Research)

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Master-class by Girish Karnad

As part of a 3-day festival celebrating the works of Girish Karnad, he himself conducted a lecture on drama in general and play-writing in particular. Here are my notes from that engaging lecture.

A play-writer has to always bare in mind the essential difference between a संभाषण (conversation) and a संवाद (dialogue). You overhearing a couple sitting behind you in a bus, taking about their problems, is different from you being in the audience of a play depicting marital conflict. Even if the talkers in both the situations are oblivious or pretending to be oblivious to your presence, the play must be written with the audience in mind.  

Mr. Karnad used his own play 'Yayati', as a case study on how he goes about writing a play. According to him, first comes the carpentry where you get the logic and basic framework of the play right. Then comes the play-writing, the moments of inspiration and artistic satisfaction fall in this category. While explaining the intricacies of the Yayati plot, he touched upon how father-son relationships have been drastically different in different cultures. In Western culture (as depicted in Oedipus, Hamlet and at length in the whole Freudian analysis) the son is always the aggressor. And given a chance he would kill his father. But in the Indian context it is the other way round. In numerous instances in our mythology and epics, it is the father who is aggressive and son accepts his father's will. Be it Ram accepting a fourteen year sentence to keep his Father's honour, be it Shiva beheading his own son, or Pooru accepting Yayati's curse on his behalf. Of course this is no rule and there will be counter examples on both sides. But the general trend seems to hold. I wonder why it is so different in both cultures?

During the Q&A session, when he was discussing a particular character from 'Hayavadana', my friend asked whether all his plays were based on his own experiences. To this he answered a resounding yes but also pointed out that when someone relates to you an incident, and you feel their emotion, then it also becomes a part of your own experience. An experience can be emotional or intellectual, but both contribute to your expressions and your creations as an artist.

Dr. Mohan Agashe, who was sitting quietly in the audience thus far, had a very interesting point to make on this. After the British left India, we structured most of your systems like education, economy, entertainment, etc. according to Western practices and values. But within the confines of our own households, our practices and values remained traditional. The very peculiar effect that this dichotomous upbringing gave us is that when there is an intellectual appeal to us, we think in English (as in, we think with Western values) but when the appeal is emotional, we think in the vernacular. For example, when asked what you think about individual liberty and freedom, most will support it. But when you ask the same people how they want their wife to behave? They would, overtly or covertly, want her to be the traditional Indian, self-sacrificing women.

Overall the session went on quiet well and ended on time. This format was much better than someone interviewing him, and asking silly questions like what made you write so and so play, etc. It is much fun when, while explaining your viewpoint, you take concrete examples and stay brief. And that is exactly what Mr. Karnad did.

A Saturday morning well spent, i believe.


Friday, May 03, 2013

हमिदाबाईची कोठी

A cold chill went down my spine when the announcer proclaimed that this is going to be a 3-act play. It was close to 10 in the night already, I had to wake up early the next morning and drive 300 kilometres. So this better be good i said. And good it was. 

इंतजार का नाम हि जीवन है बेटी. किसी को पैसे का इंतजार किसीको मोहोब्बत का, तो किसीको मौत का इंतजार. Hamidabai was played by Neena Kulkarni (I am told it was originally played by Vijaya Mehta). She is a तवाइफ़ (courtesan) who is way past her prime. An idealist of sorts who will not adapt to the changing times, nor will allow others to do so. She thinks it is "cheating" to sing and dance to Filmi songs but when asked by her daughter शब्बो (played by Manwa Naik, and originally by Neena Kulkarni herself) if not paying the बनिया is also cheating, she just laments about hard times and avoids the question. It is ok to cheat the grocer but not the teacher. But cheating is cheating. Unfortunately this is a highly acceptable form of double standards in our society. Somehow we think that someone who works to earn money is less respectable than someone who does 'selfless' work.

मेरी अपनी जबान ही नहीं हैं। जिस के साथ बात हैं उसकी जबान ले लेता हूँ। माँ बाप अपने बच्चे को कुछ दे न दे। जबान तो देनी चाहिए ना? सत्तार is played superbly by Jitendra Joshi. An orphan who works as a pimp but aspires to work a more respectable profession and settle down with the love of his life. He hates his life's circumstances but is powerless to change them. We are always taught that we can be whatever we want to be. This character shows just how hard that can be.

मी लग्न संसारासाठी नाही संरक्षणासाठी केलंय. After marrying the local gunda शब्बो tells this quite frankly to her white-collared lover (who is too scared to marry her because she is a daughter of a courtesan). Here is one more character which fails to change her life's circumstances. But in her case it is perhaps due to her own stubbornness. She is not willing to leave or sell the Kothi which is the last memory of her mother, even at the cost of marrying a brute who she does not love. Why people give more importance to the memory/expectations of dead people, even more than their own dear life, is beyond me.

As it is obvious i was more interested in the characters than the plot. Perhaps because a plot where idealist clash with the opportunist is not very relevant today. It is a hangover of a by-gone era. We are all opportunists now :D

Spoiler Alert: After the first act was over i casually remarked that all women characters in this play are going to die one by one. And so they did. I wonder if the writer was trying to say something with this..