Monday, December 6, 2010


Isn't it that time of the year again for you?
Days of broken nights and dancing cheese?
Of plastic lungs and smoky smiles?
Of drunken miles with dirty dimes?
And of psycho rhymes?
Golden songs fail to please,
and what of floating sheets?
Tunes in buckets
and painful heels.
Isn't it that time of the year for you?
You with your sly-cream eyes,
and the rum-kissed miles.
The cigar streets
and the heavy beats.
The stringy suits
with the muddy shoes...
isn't it that time of the year again for you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Altered un-orientation, it is.
Destabilising but exciting nonetheless.
The little black sticks are breaking up.
Black, plastic and weak.
Neon weakness blinds sometimes.
The sinking started long before the waters rose
surprise me. surprise me. surprise my mind and what else is left inside the old house.
old houses hold a lot of secrets and broken corridors.
lying whispers run along with changed minds.
time ruins, time breaks and time bangs on the floor with a hammer made of air.
The hammer sings, loud and long.
It sings to the tuneless poems that people create.
Run, run and run to the broken corridor on the left.
Peek into the first door that you find.
the dead poet told us to shake dreams off your hair.
shake the cobwebs away and run inside the mind that you drew when I woke you up.
I tried jumping off the edge and danced instead. The dizzy madness has overtaken me
heat. the heat the heat and the heat. in the distance I see that the liquids have already married.
the awful offspring is mine now. To foster, to care and to bury.
It is a mad child.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peace and disquiet can hit at the same time. How many times have you heard the few leaves rustling outside your bedroom at night? Most of the time, all I can hear is the sound of a car on the deserted night streets. That is probably followed by the feeble sound of a dry leaf moving to the slight breeze.
By then, I am probably asleep or too bored to care.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I hate writing ratty posts. They are too revealing and narcissistic. They also make you sound like one of those emo-punks you hate and love to trash. Some times it is better to be nasty and pretend-strong. Then you got the whole world believing that you are a fortress that they can hide in. You dole out a lot of advice to people you care for? Yes, I do that. A lot. The happiness that you get from un-fucking someone else's fuckup somehow covers up a lot of the misery that is inside you. Helping someone else is so cathartic that you almost end up convincing yourself that you are happy too.
But the crushing friend never fails. It is always there. After you are done injecting other people with feel-good nectar, all you are left with is your own bile. No drug invented for you yet, is it? The ether only works for a while. And after the effects wear off, forget quoting Comfortably Numb to yourself. The crushing pain inside becomes physical at times. You can literally feel it, way beyond all the self induced numbness. Nudity of all kinds is rather shocking. So is nude pain. We can almost never deal with it. Which is why we remain, yours truly and pretend-strong.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Its been a while since I have written. The last one month has been crazy, to say the least. I have always hated paperwork, and lately all I have been doing, is that. Running helter-skelter with this document and that. All I can see right now are photocopies and more photocopies. One of these days, I swear my birth certificate will develop a voice and start ranting at the number of times it has been stuck inside a photocopier. It is an utter sadness I swear.
My mind has been in a perennial state of funk and that has ended pissing off some loved ones. All apologies to them and they know who they are.
I have also being OD-ing on a number of television series. I suggest you OD on them too. It is great fun without having to screw your nervous system by overdosing on actual substances.
I like going places. It is the interim of preparation that I hate.
Sheer nightmare, this.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One lone voice

There is still hope. With people like Bloomberg, the Muslim-hating American stereotype does go down a notch. It is difficult to go against the flow of conventional thought and opinion without being politically incorrect. Bloomberg has managed to achieve the very opposite. 9/11 was as traumatic for the Muslims as it was for the Americans. What is interesting is the fact that Bloomberg manages to draw the usually much-blurred distinction between Al-Qaeda and Islam.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thank you.

I have often wanted to write a long song for those who mattered. But emotion is cheesy and hence overrated. There is no way to express certain things without seeming pathetic. There are so many regrets, memories and wishes that I can scrape together from the past. Mash them all together and you will get one bowl of angsty teenage crap. The sad part is that all that crap has made me the kind of person I am today.
My antidote to the excess emotion is a state called hyper-rationality. Take out all that emotion and subject it to the operating theater and some cold formaldehyde. There is nothing more effective than that. Think of everything as being part of a chain of cause and effect and you will see that you have reduced yourself to nothing more than a machine with interconnected gears. One moves and then they all do.
Once you have been clinical to yourself, all those half forgotten memories, times when you should have apologised, moments when you shouldn't have stopped fighting, shouldn't have let go...they will all become nothing, but mere "anthropological inevitabilities."
Thank you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

After the mad, comes the ravaged...

The mad child ran and left in his wake,
rubble that crumbles
and came back the prodigal storm.
He walked backwards through the broken wake.
Now he is wasted, a wasted child.
Red eyes and dusty hair.
He brings mad to the sane
and sorrow to those who need it.
Happiness is no longer a drive.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


From a distance, the sunlight was blinding
I saw red skirts running around and chattering.
bright smiles and peaceful hands
when they turned I saw their faces
One of them was mine
but she was a thousand years old.
They ate dusty fruits and giggled all the way home.
I stared at them from the interiors of a steaming tin furnace.
The red skirt and the white shirt are long forgotten now.
The blue corridors have eaten them up.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


It is the yellow light that does me in every time.
The sun and the stars make for very corny love rhymes.
The heart does very bad things to the grammar that I have learnt.
Mystery throbs and I go mad.
Sad, and there comes your smile.
The lovesongs play on loop and make sense.
the child dances inside the caged cell and I jump too.
the ripples and the pebbles stream along with unbroken rhyme.

when you are ugly, you are not overrated anymore.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Out Of The Gaze

This post should make real sense to folks who have been wearing glasses for the better part of their lives. During my high school years, I remember reading an autobiographical piece on how the author had to spend a few days without wearing glasses.
He had described the experience as being very destabilising. According to him, he could not think without wearing glasses. The funny part is that glasses or spectacles do become an extension of ALL our sense organs. The other day a friend of mine mentioned that he could not hear what the other person was saying because he himself was not wearing his pair of glasses!
I realised that without my pair of glasses, I am truly helpless. Or is it hopeless? I think any veteran-spectacles wearer will agree when I say that we somehow equate our vision to other sensory experiences. Like the aforementioned author, I find it difficult to make my mind work without my spectacles.
Then I tried something which felt good. While coming home on the bus, I decided to take off my spectacles while staring outside the window. (In moments of anger, my mother has often confessed that she thinks that while creating Dog, God made me. I guess she is drawing the parallel from the way dogs stick their heads out of car windows, eagerly lolling their tongues. I however, do NOT loll my tongue. I stare.)
Anyway, I digress. I stared out of the window at the world sans my high powered glasses. Everything looked like a pleasant blurry haze. While I could discern faces, I could not make out their facial features. And then I had an epiphany. (I use the word for cheap drama. It is not that sensational perhaps. ) For once I could stare without being stared at.
I feel that we live under a perpetual gaze. (Foucaldians, back off! The Pan-opticon can wait.) At home, we are under the stare of our family and outside, under the multimillion gazes of strangers. And a woman especially has to cope with the lecherous leers of perverts who are sizing her up. That lecherous gaze exists because we are able to see it. We return the gaze and the process is completed.
But that evening I was liberated from that. Yes, liberating is the word. I was not subject to that all knowing gaze anymore. That was because I could see without "looking" or "gazing".
I stared happily at the hazy world outside. For once the details did not matter. I saw a million faces that day, and not the million eyes under which I have lived all my life.
(For the non-spectacle people: If you don't get this, then worry not. We bespectacled people are not part of a secret cult. )

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trying to be a "rut buster"

I am stuck in such a rut that it's not even funny.Since the exams ended, I haven't been doing much work. Sleeping, eating and meeting friends is all that I have been up to. All the deadlines that are looming up are conveniently forgotten. Forcing myself to work is not helping. On the bright side, I have been watching a lot of films lately.That includes:

1.The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus-A surreal fantasy enhanced by three presences, namely Heath Ledger, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Law is an utter disappointment. Farrell is great and I will reserve any comments on Ledger because it might turn into a hero worshiping rant on the man. But it is amazing to watch how friends have chipped in to complete what Ledger couldn't finish.

2.This Is It- I rarely cry at the movies, and I am not a Michael Jackson fan. This left me in tears. I like his music but am not crazy about it. This documentary left me in tears at the sheer untimely waste of talent. Possibly the world's greatest performer and entertainer, Jackson's moves in the film screamed anything but "50!". Yes, he was fifty and still executing those crazy dance movements under the blinding lights.

3.Up- Ah, what a cute piece of animation genius. An apt pick-me-up for a rut-buster.

4.A Bug's Life- I will think twice before I squish an ant again. Only Pixar could make a slimy bug look so adorable.
My blog title is a reference to a popular sitcom. Can you figure it out?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mad mad child.

the crazy child.
the jingling pebbles and the laughing glasses.
You run and you run forever.
I will walk and try to write down what you say.
It is very difficult when you keep laughing all the time.
There is a hidden child in my pocket which is giggling too.
The pool is very shallow and I will hurt my feet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mediocre tales.

A calf stares at the shop doors while the man hugs the railings for spurious solace.
Picking away at a dead rat..
a grimy crow tries to be Zen.
Green for me and blue for you;
It is the birth place for dead crows who gloat at sleeping beggars.
Childish rhyme and dead verse look good on paper.
I do not like you on paper but I would rather play the tambourine at your funeral.
Fake blood smudges the walls of the broken school.
The poet is desperate to be heard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cheese Dervishes

The cheese is dancing under the halogen lights.
Red flags flutter in the wind
and then the cheese dances, and dances
and dances...
Forever out of reach of the blue legged ones.
The mice are playing...or do they call them mouses?
It must be the muses...
gibberish squabbles in the sewers...
Me, you and the mice who muse over the cheese dervishes...

Friday, May 21, 2010

China and the Cyberspace: Censorship in the Blogosphere

The history of an authoritarian regime seems to be a curiously ironical one. One would think that the more powerful it gets, the more secure it would feel. Funnily, all the great dictators have been the epitomes of paranoia. A parodied image of Hitler with his moustache twitching in suspicion, or a Stalin yelling in guttural Russian has become a part of popular culture. However, we joke about them because they are dead, to put it crudely. This paranoia is still at large in one of the remaining authoritarian regimes today: China.
The irony is not over yet. The harsher the crackdown gets, the wider the network of subversion. The State’s machinery of censorship is admittedly impressive. To counter this, the Internet has provided a much needed outlet for the numerous voices being stifled within the country. Much to its dubious credit, internet censorship in China is highly advanced. In spite of that citizen bloggers are eking out newer ways to bypass such restraints.
In this paper, I have looked at the issue of censorship in China and the latest challenge that it has been facing. Subversive blogging has started all over the country notwithstanding the daily shut-downs and blackouts that bloggers have to face. Some unlucky ones are detained or placed under house arrest. Such clemency, however, is not shown to the Tibetans. Their blogs are unceremoniously shut down while they disappear, often permanently into the depths of the Chinese prisons.
I have managed to interview two of the most famous subversive bloggers/citizen journalists who operate out of China, namely Richard Burger and Zuola. In order to view the situation from a wider angle I have also spoken to Julen Madariaga, an European blogger from Shanghai. However, all my efforts to contact any Tibetan have been futile. I endeavoured through various sources in vain. It is understandable, since any Tibetan indulging in so called “subversive” activities could receive a 15 year sentence if he or she is lucky. That includes answering questions for an innocuous college project in India.
Using the responses to the interviews, I have come up with some conclusions concerning the relative nature of the censorship that China employs among its citizens. Also, while working on the paper I have encountered censorship in turn. Thus my perspective on the matter has not been as detached. Internet censorship in China is like a chess game between two equal opponents. Neither can live while the other survives. This is what I have highlighted in my paper.

Fear has always been an integral part of any regime. What better tool than that to ensure absolute obedience? The funny part is that it is just not the people who are frightened of authority. Both the oppressor and the oppressed are equally fearful of each other. Though that sounds like an absurd proposition, consider it in light of all the measures that an authoritarian regime imposes upon its people. Why would you bother to gag someone whose opinion could never harm you?
A shining example, China stands tall to prove this point. With a country consisting of millions of people, officials never tire of trying to hunt out the slightest form of dissent. The Communist Party of China is ever fearful of citizens who are trying to come up with anything that goes against party propaganda. Yet some always manage to slip through the net. The whole scenario represents one of those cartoon images of an absurdly comical villain trying to nab the ever-enterprising hero. Think Tom and Jerry if you will. The image of a cat trying to trap the mouse is an accurate symbol of what Chinese Internet censorship is slowly becoming.
China has a staggering number of bloggers, more than those in the US and Japan combined. In a post-Mao society blogging emerged as one of the easiest ways to engage in private political discourse. For writers all over the world, blogging is mostly a means of private expression. In a country like China where self expression is limited, an outlet like blogging becomes more than a mere form of self expression. It turns into a means of survival of the individualistic element in a person. It is reminiscent of Winston in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. He does not know what to write, on facing a blank sheet of paper. When he does start, the words start tumbling out in “sheer panic”.
However, in spite of such a high number of bloggers, only a select few dare to criticise the government and its actions in their “subversive” blogs.
Herein lies another problem. Very few people would actually label their blogs as “deliberately” subversive. This attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the censors who are constantly looking to label for an excuse to enforce their authority. Julen Madariaga says that the intention of the bloggers is not to create an anti-establishment space against the regime. They are just looking to make it more open to opinion. This is one very important aspect about the blogosphere in China. They are not looking to create an alternative space, but widen whatever exists within the country at this time. They are generally critiquing the actions of the government in language which is deliberately misleading. Those who chose to take a more open path face the wrath of the government. Take Zuola for example. He has been detained on one occasion following the Guizhou riots.
A 16 year old girl had been raped and murdered by some local boys. The media releases following the case dismissed it as suicide. There were violent riots as a consequence. This was one of the first instances where citizen journalism and blogging actually led to the dismissal of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) officials on charges of abusing power and corruption. Not surprisingly, Zuola was detained soon after this and his computer was taken away from him. He was soon released but kept under house arrest. The moment he was arrested, he started sending out tweets from his phone. The news spread like wildfire over the online networks.
It is interesting to observe the way social networking websites are being used to validate one's human rights in a scenario which does not permit it. For many people, Facebook is a means to play flash games and keep in touch with old classmates. On the other hand, the same medium is being used for survival, in a manner of speaking.

Relative censorship in China

Censorship laws in China are relative in nature. Their stringency depends on certain factors like the language and nature of content. For example, Zuola is subject to harsher treatment because he is writing in Chinese. Richard Burger, on the other hand has admitted that Westerners are treated in a more liberal fashion. It depends on the language one is writing in. The paramount concern of the CCP is to make sure that the people in the country are not moved by any incendiary thought. A person writing in Chinese will have more access to the people than anyone else. Richard Burger, owner of the Peking Duck blog was allowed to criticise the government for years because he wrote in English. Though learning English has become the newest obsession in China, the number of English speakers is still a minority as compared to the India, for example.
Compare this to the way Tibetan writers are being treated within the country. The treatment is far more brutal. Tibetan citizen journalists are routinely arrested and given long prison sentences. Jamyang Kyi is a writer, musician and well known blogger in Tibet. Or at least she was, until her arrest in 2008. She was detained for over a month and had to undergo a gruelling interrogation. Her family had no idea where she was for those days. Currently she is awaiting trial. Tsering Woeser is one of the most influential writers in Tibet. Her blogs were shut down after she posted pro-Dalai Lama messages in 2006. She has been under house arrest. Her employment and her housing have been seized. Her blog was hacked into and filled with Chinese propagandist images. Language plays a very complex role in this situation. Many Tibetans including Woeser write in Chinese. Being a product of the Cultural Revolution, her education has been in Han Chinese.
Kunga Tsangyang was one of the most famous bloggers in Tibet until his arrest on the 17th of March in 2009. He was arrested for writing political essays on a website called “Jottings” or Zin-dis (Tibetan). In his essay, “Who Are The Real Separatists?” he talks about the way the CCP is constantly trying to create a chasm between the Tibetans and the Chinese, while accusing the former of “splittism”. He is yet to be released from prison, despite numerous protests.
From these incidents, it is clear that the government is not interested in what is being written, but whom it reaches. A fiery speech can go unknown if it does not reach the right people. The restriction seems to be focusing on the dissemination of information than the actual expression of it, in my opinion.

Compromised cyberspace

Tibetan websites like are routinely shut down and become inaccessible at times. Some of the other websites which have been “unavailable” are:
• .
• ,,
When one tries to open these sites, a “page unavailable” display pops up or various other error messages. Some are even reported by Google as “suspicious sites”. It is believed that malware is deliberately inserted in these websites to trigger off such virus alerts.
The GFW or the Great Firewall of China has become a byword for internet censorship today. Originally started in 1998 to counter the Democratic Party, it has now become an all encompassing element in Chinese cyberspace. There are filters which are constantly in motion, circulating the web for any reference to topics which might be considered “detrimental in the name of national security.” It is funny how the language of authoritarianism is the same everywhere. Any content found with “forbidden words” is promptly censored. “Dalai Lama” is an absolute filter favourite, so to speak. So is any word or reference to the innumerable human rights “incidents” that China is so famous for. Before the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen massacre, social networking sites were shut down in a simultaneous crackdown. Significantly, blogging portals were blacked out too.
Richard Burger's blog was shut down just after the anniversary of Tienanmen.
While strict censorship laws are generally in place constantly, the anti-dissident surge gathers momentum just before any international event taking place in the country. Under the eye of the world, all blemishes are hurriedly concealed by the authorities. Examples of this can be seen on three recent occasions: the Beijing Olympics (2008), the Tienanmen Square anniversary (2009) and the upcoming Shanghai Expo in (2010). these events are generally attended by world leaders and other public figures.
However, in the battle of man versus machine, the former is endowed with a natural scheming mind which comes in handy. Many have managed to defeat the mighty government computers by inventing sly code words which can slip past the government censors.
The figure of the “grass mud horse” is innocent enough. When written, it has a clean meaning. However the spoken word is a double entendre and is loaded with dirty connotation. Who would have thought that this innocuous figure would take on the might Communist Party of China and leave it red faced? In 2008, a very controversial petition called Charter 08 was released online by Chinese intellectuals. It questioned the power of the government and soon enough, all references to it were blacked out online. By January 2009, the figure of the grass horse started appearing in music videos. Featuring a fight between the peaceful horses and the river crabs, it ultimately became a symbol of subversion. There is another layer to the joke. The Chinese word for river crab sounds like the word “harmony”. And any Chinese netizen would know what “harmony” symbolises in the government policy. Any dissident opinion is “harmonised” by the government to maintain peace. That is how Hu Jintao puts it in his speeches. The “grass mud horse” became a symbol of defiance online.
In his blog, Madariaga comes up with the idea to rename the Charter 08 as “wang”. In case the Chinese censors started filtering the grass mud horse, the computers would surely breakdown if all “wangs” had to be erased off the Chinese cyberspace. It happens to be a very common surname which, even Communist might would be unable to deal with. There is always a way to evade authority, but in China the forces in power are so encompassing that few Chinese dare step out of line.
This brings us to the very important question about heroism and protest. Is it better to stand up against power with the knowledge that one can perish in the attempt? Or is it more practical to quietly spread the seeds of dissent? In the play The Life of Galileo, Galileo himself recants his teachings and is allowed to lead a peaceful life as a consequence. During the last years of his life which were spent in house arrest, he writes the Discorsi right under the nose of the Church. He gives up martyrdom for being allowed to live and hence continue his work instead of dying a hero.

Three voices in the country

Three bloggers who live in China, and their take on things. These are the interviews of Richard Burger (, Julen Madariaga ( ) and Zuola ( ). Both Zuola and Burger have faced censorship problems in China. In spite of my efforts I have been unable top contact any Tibetan blogger from within the country. (I have reproduced these responses verbatim, making minimal grammatical changes)

Richard Burger

1. The world generally has very polemical opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either pure evil or angels in disguise. As a citizen living within the country, what would be your perspective of the situation?
Tibet is a very complex issue, and anyone arguing that either side is good or evil clearly doesn’t understand the history of Tibet. The Chinese sincerely believe they have made incredible efforts to improve everyday life in Tibet, and to a large extent this is true. Their motivation is in no way evil, but it does fail to overlook the fact that no matter how much money they spend modernizing and improving Tibet, they are still seen as occupiers who threaten the local culture. Nothing they do will improve the situation until they show greater respect for Tibetan autonomy (as opposed to independence) and give the Tibetans a clear signal that they have a fair say in what goes on there.

2. China is reputed to have a ruthlessly efficient system of censorship. Again, according to you how efficient is it really? How has it affected you?
My own blog was censored in the summer of 2009 shortly after the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square crackdown. Censorship is something you learn to deal with when you choose to live in China. It is proof of the government’s fundamental insecurity and anxiety, since they are terrified of allowing their people to think for themselves.

3. Subversive blogging is one of the most important forms of self-expression in China. How would you trace its development in the country?
It started the minute blogs began to pop up in China, around 2003. These blogs have become increasingly clever and creative, adopting elaborate codes to convey their messages without triggering the censors. They are also getting much bolder, with Han Han criticizing the government outright. We’ll see how far the government allows this to go. Right now they seem confused and helpless.

4. Does blogging and citizen journalism help in bypassing the information blockages imposed by an authoritarian regime?
Yes. Blogs have helped spread the word about corruption and criminality within the Communist party, forcing the government to crack down on the perpetrators lest it be faced with widespread public rage.

5. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?

Not at all. All Chinese bloggers are of the same mind when it comes to Tibet, namely that China has been an angel and the Dalai Lama is a “jackal.” I’ve never heard of Chinese bloggers taking issue with the government’s stance on Tibet.

6. As a Westerner, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Chinese or worse, a Tibetan?
Slightly more liberal –as long as you are communicating in English, the government doesn’t usually try to silence you. It’s only when you can mobilize the masses that they care, and that can only be done in Chinese. I was allowed to criticize the government in English for years.

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages further methods of subversion? How developed is the underground network in China?
I don’t think there is any underground network to speak of. The government here is generally popular, and it appears harsh only to a small minority. Most Chinese don’t care about this, as long as they can make money.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on dissenting voices? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
It’s all about holding onto power. The gravest threat to a one-party system is the activist who can rally the public to turn them against the government. So censorship and crackdowns on dissent are the norm, and everyone accepts it. The arguments in favour of this are not justified in my eyes, but most Chinese people are happy with the system as it is, and it is their country.

9. Do you believe that censorship of any form whatsoever is justified?
Well, there’s always the legitimate argument that you can’t yell Fire in a crowded theatre. And you can’t spread child pornography or slander someone. So of course you can never have total freedom of speech. However, political censorship is never justified.


1.The world generally has very strange opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either very bad or the good guys. As a citizen living within the country, what is your opinion?
The collective consciousness conflicts with the Tibetan culture. The Communist Party's collective consciousness is incompatible with the original religion in Tibet and the Communist Party is not open to these culture and beliefs.

2. China is reputed to have an excellent system of censorship. Again, according to you how good is it really? How has it affected you?
The result of Chinese censorship is that all the media is controlled, the more important the social topic is, the more it will be avoided. The important social issues are not discussed openly and
no attempt has been made to solve them .

3.Blogging is one of the most important forms of self expression in China. What do you have to say to that?
I hope more and more people become independent bloggers

4.Does blogging and citizen journalism help in escaping the information
restrictions put by an authoritarian regime?

5.. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?
That didn't help the Tibet issue, people in China generally don't know Tibet well.

6. As a Chinese, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Tibetan or a Westerner?
Censorship is more severe for the Chinese

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages people to use ways of bypassing the restrictions? How developed is the underground network in China?
The severe censorship will make people try to find ways to bypass it.
For me, I think the establishment of civil society is better than underground network. The underground network is on the opposite side of society, but civil society will resolve the social conflicts gradually.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on people who speak out? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
I can't translate this one, I don't understand this.(this is the translation:)

9. Do you believe that censorship of any form whatsoever, is justified?
It can be justified if the censorship standards are more open and the standards
can be discussed and revised.

10. How have you been affected by the restrictions?

My blog has been blocked by China, I don't know why, I didn't get any
notification or Subpoena, my rights has been violated and I don't know
how to file a complaint.

Julen Madariaga

1.The world generally has very polemical opinions concerning the issue of Tibet. The Chinese are either pure evil or angels in disguise. As a citizen living within the country, what would be your perspective of the situation?
The Dalai Lama has been very skilful in marketing a certain idealised image of Tibet that resonates in many Western minds. On the other hand, for the CCP the subject is very sensitive for obvious territorial reasons. The outcome of radicalised positions you mention was inevitable, IMO, given these premises.
My opinion: China is certainly not so evil as many like to imagine in the West, just compare how many Palestinians/ Chechenyas /Iraqis are killed every year, and how many Tibetans... One may agree or not with CCP policy in Tibet, but to qualify it as evil and attempt to boycott China for this is completely unreasonable. To be fair one should first attack the US, UK, Israel, Russia, etc. for far worse crimes than China's development of Tibet.

2.China is reputed to have a ruthlessly efficient system of censorship. Again, according to you how efficient is it really? How has it affected you?
The truth is Chinese censorship system may be ruthless, but it is NOT efficient. Any Chinese netizen can easily use a free web proxy and get through the Wall to uncensored content outside of China. This censorship system would never work in a country where the masses are tyrannized by their government. It only works in China because most people are just not so interested in getting access to dissident content, and they will not do the effort of finding a proxy to get there. In fact, most Chinese are quite happy with their government - sure, many would like to have more freedom of speech - but they believe this will eventually come, and few consider it a capital priority to fight for today.

3.Subversive blogging is one of the most important forms of self expression in China. How would you trace its development in the country?
I don't like to use the name "subversive" because it is dangerous for those bloggers, and because many of them don't really have the intention of "subverting" the regime, just of opening it more. In any case, sure, the internet has allowed many Chinese people to express their own opinions, and many have taken the chance to speak out on blogs, BBS, micro-blogs, etc. - which regularly get censored by the government. I think the movement developed quite naturally first when the government still didn't have the censorship operation in place, and there is a generation of netizens that experimented FOS in that way. Keep in mind however that proper dissident bloggers (as opposed to occasional anonymous ranters) are a very small minority of the Chinese netizens.

4. Does blogging and citizen journalism help in bypassing the information blockages imposed by an authoritarian regime?
Yes, it certainly helps. It informs the netizens of the way to bypass the GFW , it makes available articles that were erased from other outlets, and in general it provides free information that is lacking in the strictly controlled traditional media.

5. How have the above helped in the Tibetan issue?
I don't think they have helped much. The reason is that most Chinese people, including most liberal bloggers, do not support the Western position in this issue. Sure, there is some CCP brainwashing going on, but even without the CCP, no Chinese in his right mind would agree to some terms for Tibet that are potentially dangerous for China's territory, and which are perceived as coming from the West. It is a complete absurdity that the colonial West, just fresh back from destroying Iraq, now comes to give lessons to China in this field.

6. As an European, do you think that the laws of censorship apply more liberally to you as compared to a Chinese or worse, a Tibetan?
No, the "laws of censorship" have nothing to do with the nationality of the user, but with other factors like: the language you write, the influence and readers you have, the location where you are. A different thing is the "laws of repression". This is, supposing I actively promote a very sensitive topic in China, my content would get censored exactly the same as a Chinese person. But the risk for myself would be limited to getting kicked out of the country, whereas a Chinese citizen may face harsher consequences.

7. Do you believe that a harsh regime encourages further methods of subversion? How developed is the underground network in China?
Yes, a harsh regime encourages, but sincerely I don't think the CCP is harsh, or at least it is not perceived as such by most Chinese. I don't know of any underground network in China, if it exists it must be very small. In any case, the main reason there is no subversion now is that the majority of Chinese just don't want it. Most serious dissidence is based out of the country and is strongly supported by Western governments and/or radical religious organizations like the FLG.

8. What possible justification is there for China's oppressive crackdown on dissenting voices? How far do you think that those arguments are justified, personally speaking?
From my observation, the explanation of most CCP supporters is that dissenters are putting at risk the first objective of unity, stability and growth. First make a great country -they say- then get more individual rights. While this might be true, there is another reason that is rarely mentioned: the people in power like to keep their comfy seats. Whatever the real reasons, some of the actions that we have seen, like the arrest of Liu XiaoBo or Xu Zhi Yong, are completely unjustified.


Censorship is a self perpetuating vicious cycle in the country. The Great Firewall might be efficient, but not as much as the world thinks it is. It is for this reason that bloggers like Zuola are able to maintain their blogs through proxy servers in America. It is easy enough to bypass the barriers, but how many would actively do something to incur harsh action? The reason China is able to control dissidents is because there are so few of them in number. In isolation, the number of activists or protesters who are punished is large. Broadly speaking, however, in a country like China, that percentage out of the total population is negligible. When we see protesters holding banners and marching, we automatically tend to generalise and club them into one monolithic community. What we forget is that in a billion-strong country, punishment fails to have any significant impact.
The “ruthless force” which China is proud of, has not stood the test of a millions-strong movement. There are millions of Internet users all over China. If, even 50 % of them decided to use evasive means to access and release restricted information, how well could the government censors function? All three of the interviewees have said that there is no underground network in the country. The government rules by example. Dissidents are punished as a show of force. In all centralised regimes, such display is very important.
This is why online initiatives have died out. The infamous “Charter 08” faded away in a few months.
Another interesting point to note about the interviews is the fact that while language is the point of contention, one cannot deny the race angle. Laws will be applied differently to a Chinese, a Tibetan and a Westerner. Again, Burger and Zuola have testified to this fact. Although Julen says that it has to do with language and topic, in the end he does go on to say that “...the risk for myself would be limited to getting kicked out of the country, whereas a Chinese citizen may face harsher consequences.”
Whatever is censored by the government is meant to set an example. One essay by an intellectual will probably not influence millions of people. Yet, the intellectual in question must be imprisoned. Why? To display power and authority. Even the point of dissemination which I have mentioned, is secondary.
Many opine that that Chinese censorship is the least hypocritical when compared with countries like the U.S.A. At least in China, people know that limiting measures are in place. A lot of information is suppressed in other countries without the public even coming to know about it. That is the greatest irony. In spite of such strict censorship, the world always knows what is going on in China. Yet when the US or Great Britain suppresses facts on issues like defence and health, people come to know of it months and sometimes, even years later. Details of inhuman torture performed by the CIA on terror suspect Binyam Mohamed were blacked out to protect the identities of certain British intelligence officers who contributed questions during the interrogation by the US. This makes one wonder where the truly efficient censorship lies.
There is another important element in this self perpetuating cycle: Material values. This is inevitable in a (purportedly) Communist state. As is obvious from the interviews, most of the Chinese are satisfied with their government in general. Woeser has lost her employment and housing. Why one would someone risk that for playing a tiny role in a movement which is most likely to die out? Again, heroism for the sake of heroism is pointless.
On an occasion, a conversation with a Tibetan businessman from Lhasa (part of the TAR, or the Tibetan Autonomous Region) further proved my point. On being asked about the Tibetan situation in China, he said that he was completely satisfied with the way things were. Speaking through a translator he mentioned that “if you follow all their rules, they will never do anything to you. I am very happy and am earning lots of money.”
His prosperity was evident from his appearance. Compare this to the situation of a Tibetan political prisoner who was imprisoned for over thirty years. When she was out, her daughter, now an adult, was unable to recognise her. Tibet is still not free. It is natural to question: why would someone risk so much if he/she could quietly lead a reasonably happy life with family?
This is in no way meant to belittle the efforts of the freedom fighters in the Tibetan context. I am not talking about the few who still mean to fight for their rights, it is about the millions who don't and these are the numbers which really matter.
Ultimately censorship is more of an internal force than anything else. It is self imposed due to certain extraneous factors. There is always the choice of breaking the rules, and a few choose to do it.
The role of the government is not to censor, but to create appropriate conditions so that people may censor themselves in the end.


• ""All Quiet on the Tibetan Blog Front."" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 06 Mar. 2009. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. .
• Brecht, Bertolt. The Life of Galileo. Trans. Desmond I. Vesey. Ed. A. Stock. 25th ed. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
• Burger, Richard. Web log post. The Peking Duck. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .
• Kyi, Jamyang. ""Answers to Three Questions"" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 22 June 2009. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. .
• Madariaga, Julen. Web log post. CHINAYOUREN. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. .
• Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Great Britain: Penguin, 1954. Print.
• Reporters San Frontieres. ""Living Dangerously on the Net"" Reporters San Frontieres. 12 May 2003. Web. 25 Apr. 2010. .
• Seth, Vikram. From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet. New Delhi: Penguin, 1990. Print.
• ""Tibetan Bloggers and Citizen Journalists."" Web log post. High Peaks Pure Earth. Ed. High Peaks Pure Earth. Blogger, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Apr. 2010. .
• Tsangyang, Kunga. "Who Are The Real Separatists?" Web. 02 May 2010. .

I would like to thank Varun Shankar (University of Utah) for helping me get a Chinese translator for the interview of Zuola.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Suffering and the rain that follows.

There is suffering which one can blame others for. And then there is the waiting for rain. Every day I would travel to college in the abominable heat and look at the faces of the people around me. Everyone suffered, in frustration. No one could do anything about the elusive rain.
When we suffer, we find solace through blame. It is almost cathartic. One scapegoat and the crisis seems to be bearable.
Who do you blame for the lack of rain? God? The government? The UN? Mute suffering is hard to endure, in oneself or in others. Even children stopped crying in the hellish heat. Perhaps something in their gullible minds told them that this was one problem that neither Ma nor Baba could ever solve. Grim faces were struggling to cope with the crushing pressures of making ends meet. Faces lacked the freshness that one sees in the morning. There was no anticipation which comes with a new day, nor the hope. All I could see on the face of the man next to me, was a nameless dread.
Yet amidst all that suffering , a spark of hope still lurked. At the slightest breath of wind, faces turned to the sky. Every cloud brought a smile. For once, one longed for the cloud without the silver lining.
I remember the first rain of this season. The moment the first drops fell, I could hear a simultaneous cheer resonate across the streets. For once people were not as eager to seek the nearest shelter as they usually are.
And then, Nature graciously obliged.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"I am better off writing to strangers on the Internet."

Am I really? This is bound to be a random blog post. We all have old friends. Sometimes, these people become old friends merely because we have known them for a really long time. At least that is what happens to me at times. These are the old friends we never like visiting, and neither do we like it when they come by.
My friend came visiting today. I shall name it (?, of indeterminate gender) Black Cloud. I hate those times when it comes to meet me. Every time Black Cloud leaves, I heave a sigh of relief and hope never to see it again. Today, it came again in the midst of a blazing summer afternoon. I was least expecting it. But that is how it is. I met it about two years back, on Red Road. And after that I had the worst time of my life. However, I cannot deny the unmistakeable feeling of familiarity that it evokes.
I meet it with a small smile, always.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some weird sides of a Home

There are things that we know. And then there are those things that we stumble upon. It is like spotting a little blue blob on a painting which one had seen for years, but never noticed. Public transport in Kolkata gives me the strangest views of a city I thought I knew by heart. Here are some rather random observations. On hindsight they might not be that funny or random, but worth mentioning all the same.

Curiosity No. 1:
Camps can be found all around you. I was sitting in an auto, one summer morning. The auto driver was merrily chatting away with the auto driver who was moving alongside. In fact, both the vehicles decided to move at an equal speed in order to carry out their talk.
The subject: The commercial status of My Name Is Khan. (No sniggers, please!)
For convenience, I shall refer to them as Ad1 and Ad2.
Ad1, while driving the auto I happened to be occupying, was evidently an ardent SRK fan. When Ad2 asks him whether he has seen the film, Ad1 enthusiastically replies that he had seen it, and loved it.
Immediately he is interrupted by loud groans from Ad2 who says that he had needed aspirin. "Pata hai ?", he says. "Poora hall mein sirf sola (sixteen) seats bharti tha! Mein to soh gaya tha beech mein. Koi accha naach-gaana bhi nahi hai." (There were only sixteen people in the theatre. I had fallen asleep midway. There are no songs or dances in the film.)
Not to be outdone, Ad1 replies, "toh kya hua? Ye sab filim videsh mein bahut accha chaltah hain. Tu nahi samjhega yaar. Yeh sab filim pe sochna partah hain. Dimaag lagtah hai, aur tera woh cheez ki kami hai." (So what? These films do very well abroad. You will not understand because these movies require the use of a brain which you don’t possess.)
Being part of the Ad1 camp, I suppressed my cheers as Ad1 proudly zoomed off after this admirable comeback. I turned back to see the miffed face of Ad2 and resisted the urge to pat my heroic auto driver on the back.

Curiosity No. 2 : Studious mother along with bored son.
I was nodding peacefully in a bus when this priceless sight caught mine eyes. A schoolboy boarded the bus along with his mother who dutifully carried his schoolbag on her shoulders. They sit down, and he occupied the window seat. Suddenly, she whipped out one of his copies from the bag and started perusing it intently. He continued to stare out of the window. She kept reading and occasionally poked her son to ask him something. I am presuming it had something to do with some class work. He simply shrugged her off, fending her questions with consummate ease.
Throughout the entire journey, she updated herself on what was done in school. By the time her son's exams start, I am sure she will be well prepared.

Curiosity No.3: Goats who stare at men.
The auto was trundling down a dingy lane near Park Circus. All I could see were goats. Ram-chhagols, from the look of them. There was a boy perched atop his shiny bike. He was chatting with a friend who was squatting on the pavement. Both of them were unaware of the presence of a rather mean looking chhagol, who was quietly chewing away at the front tire of bike. It must have made for a good mid-day snack for a "tire-d" goat. There was another Zen-looking chhagol I spotted near a shop. A crow perched on its head and the goat bleated not a word (bleat?).

Curiosity No. 4: The jet-setter buffalo.
I firmly believe that things like this can only happen in Kolkata. I was leaving the airport after a sad farewell. A friend had just left. I don't quite remember the details as it happened a while back. However, I was in a taxi and we were passing the entrance to the domestic terminus. A huge commotion was ongoing. For no small reason, though.
A huge black buffalo was trying to fit itself through the entrance.
Since the door was obviously not meant to cater to the space demands of a super sized buffalo, the animal got stock mid way. The huge belly refused to move an inch further. No one dared to give the animal an obliging push. The prospect of nudging the backside of an angry buffalo is not a tempting one. Neither is the idea of pushing at the horns. I wonder what happened to the accidental jet-setter.
My cabbie promptly decided that the sight was unfit for the eyes of a little lady and zipped away.

Curiosity No. 5: The mobile dog.
Those who say that dogs lead a dog’s life are sadly mistaken. No mode of public transport will let you board for free. Dogs, on the other hand, have it better at times. I was aboard a cycle rickshaw near South Kolkata when I saw this rickshaw puller trundle slowly past me. The seat was vacant but the rickshaw wasn’t. No, there is no typo here. A handsome street dog stood proudly on the rickshaw. What was admirable was the deadpan expression of the man pulling it. All n a day’s work, I am guessing.
I could have sworn the mutt sported a broad grin.
That is all I can think of, for now. Shall add more later. Feel free to chip in with yours.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2nd March: Stories from the other side

Street food is an important part of life in Kolkata. The famous phuchkas ( or golgappas or paanipuris, call them what you will) are known across the country for their exquisite taste. Not surprisingly, the taste-makers have been prominently featured in the media for their skills in being able to manipulate the tastebuds of thousands of people in the city. The phuchka-wallahs have been interviewed numerous times about their lives, customers and what they like. But rarely had they been asked about what they liked themselves. Those quirky stories had never come to the forefront. This is when my friend Reeti and I got thinking. Certain stories are rarely told and often get lost in the sensation of terrorism and politics that scream for attention every morning. What started out as a small assignment blew into a full fledged narrative with a few other friends coming along to support us. We zoned into three famous phuchka-wallahs and one hot March afternoon after college, Reeti and me, accompanied by Aditya, Rukmini and Antoreep set out.
We first interviewed Bachhu Prasad outside Jadavpur University who seemed happy enough to talk. When we asked him why people came back to him again and again, he replied that it was not his phuchkas, but the human touch that he lent. He said that if one bonded with their customers they would come back, no matter what. He is originally from Bihar and migrated to Assam before settling in the City of Joy for good. Phuchkas run in his family and they have been selling them for decades on end. His father had been selling phuchkas since 1965 and he continued the legacy ever since. He loves phuchkas and seemed a bit puzzled when we asked him what his ideal phuchka would constitute. He couldn't grasp the fact that someone would ask him for his preferences as people mostly wanted to know what the customers preferred. The phuchka-man's preference seems to have been marginalised.
After this we spoke to Kusheshwar at Mudiali who has had to move base a couple of times due to run-ins with the police. He sits under a bright yellow umbrella situated below a tree. He said that the umbrella protected him from the crows and the truth of the statement was proved a few minutes later when a twig dislodged itself and landed on Antoreep's head! He comes from a village near Patna and has been taught the art of phuchka making by his brother.
The last man we spoke to was Jetendra Pandit near Vivekananda Park. There is a complete phuchka community there and it is known for having created the much imitated dahi phuchka which can now be found all over the city. Like the other two, he hails from Bihar as well. We got a taste of not only the phuchkas, but even a bout of traditional medicine. Aditya accidentally scratched his hand and it started bleeding. Pandit calmly applied some “special chilli powder” on the cut, in front of our appalled faces. Astonishingly, the cut was sealed in a matter of minutes. Pandit told us all about the varied taste preferences of different communities in the city. Observing taste buds over a span of twenty five years, who could be better informed?
After the trip, a clear pattern emerged. The men who are famous for creating one of the culinary landmarks of the city, are not from West Bengal themselves! And here we are, Bengalis taking pride in the timeless phuchka. A clear pattern of the migrant worker emerged as part of the larger picture.
Reeti and I realised that what we had embarked upon was merely the tip of the iceberg. Countless anecdotes and insights had emerged from just three conversations and there are thousands of phuchkawallahs across the city. Their stories will still remain untold until the next March afternoon. These chronicles need to be documented to grasp yet another facet of a city.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No one stood still.

Today is the 26th of January. This is the day when the entire country is supposed to be celebrating Republic Day. I was at the Metro station, waiting for the train to arrive. The television screens were playing a version of the National Anthem. It was at a pretty high volume so that everyone there could hear it. Strangely enough, people could not be less bothered. Some of them just slouched in the chairs, while others even stared at the TVs and watched it being played without taking the effort of standing still for those few moments. A few were generally walking around, chatting and laughing while the song went on in vain.
When I stood stock-still in front of the screen, some men turned around and stared at me, as if to wonder at what I was doing.
How naive I am, I suppose.
Patriotism is outdated.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Within dark rooms, caught off guard.
A growl lurking behind a lisp.
Laboured breaths from the lips of the fake child.
A trick between the lisp and does the deed indeed.
Dancing shadows beneath the moon.
Friendly teeth, bared beneath the glass light.
Sinking into unsuspecting flesh.
wolfish apologies from a changeling to a child.
Red, bursting seams.
The soreness seeps in.
The child smiles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The day I shut the door.

This is probably one of those inexplicable incidents which happen to people every other day in their lives. Some you forget, and some you don't. Often, we end up forgetting certain things because they tend to rankle. This happened to me yesterday and I still cannot figure out what bothers me so.
I was walking home in the afternoon when I realized that I had left my door key in the house before leaving that morning. I prayed that there would be someone at home or I would be locked out . Being tired, I wanted to crash for a while as I had a birthday invitation that evening. Subject to the infuriating bad luck which sweeps down on the already downtrodden, I reached my house and found the front door locked. Desperate to enter my apartment, I wondered how the detectives in the novels unlocked doors with hairpins. It was then that I went looking for a locksmith.
He was sitting on the pavement, draped in a shabby grey shawl. His feet looked tired and old. He was sitting on the pavement, staring vacantly at the feet of the countless people who passed him by. I went up to him and explained my dilemma. The old man came with me and inspected the lock on my front door. Within a few minutes, the new key was ready and I entered my house. He was still gathering up all the tools of his trade when I paid him. I got through the front door and was about to shut it when I realized that this tired old man was still on my threshold picking up his things. For some strange reason that I cannot yet fathom, closing the door on his face somehow became a task of immeasurable cruelty to me. I was unable to shut the door on his face. Awkwardly, I peered at him and asked him if everything was fine, and he simply nodded , shuffling around. When I realized that I could not stand at my door staring at him without seeming weird, did I shut the door on his face.
While I was filled with extreme relief at being able to enter my house once again, I could not rid myself of the feeling of guilt at the fact that I had shut the door on the face of the old man who had provided me with the key to my own home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The lost spectacles.

Aldous Huxley would be so proud of me. While travelling, I did lose my spectacles just like he said I would. The road teaches you the strangest of things, and I did land up with some strange proverbial "pearls" when I went to Himachal Pradesh with my friends this time. Here are some of the gems:
There is nothing like cricket as an ice-breaker. Forget alcohol, nothing gets strangers bonding faster than a fallen wicket or two. On the train to Delhi, everybody was minding their own little business until news of the match started trickling in. India and Sri Lanka were having one of those "make-or-break" matches (aren't they all?) and it was nearing a nail-biting finish. Suddenly, there were these little cliques being formed underneath the upper berths and in the corridors. Folks who hadn't even acknowledged each other's presence for the last twelve hours or so, were now bosom buddies. The only words that I could make out from the babble were "wicket", "last ball, dada", "herey jaabe" (they will lose), among many others.
If you are a fan of Chinese cuisine, never try it at an unknown place. I tried chili chicken at some obscure restaurant in Dalhousie(the hill station) and will probably rue it till the end of my life. Or, if you still want to try it, choose a place which can spell the names of the dishes correctly, at least.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" makes for a great train read. I finished it in a few hours while returning to Kolkata.
Gloves don't make your hands warmer. They just prevent your hands from getting cold-ER. This in itself is not very helpful if your fingers have already been rendered comatose. Ask us, we KNOW.
Don't snigger, all ye backpackers. Carry a small electric kettle when you are traveling to colder climes. The kettle is a boon for all the moments when you can't force the icy water down your throat.
The mountains can be an ideal place until you need to find an tetanus shot for a friend who just cut himself. The journey to the chemist shop, to the doctor's chamber(which did not keep the medicine) and the interim is like a "hideous dream". It was the technical equivalent of a mini trek.
DO NOT trust the locals when they tell you that your destination is just a few minutes away, or even one and a half hours away, for that matter. These folks probably took their baby steps on the cliffs which you are huffing and puffing your way up.
Watch this space for further pearls.