27.11.16

No eulogies please, it's Fidel Castro

Evolution of man? (Photo montage: Fox)

A 90-metre long cigar as commemoration on the 90th birthday might fit in more with a dictator or a feudalistic leader in any part of the world rather than a perennial rebel.

That cigar, though, was an over-the-top representation of Fidel Castro, much as most symbolism tends to be. It is an overt image that might have nothing to do with beliefs and actions. In fact, Castro had stopped smoking 30 years ago.

This imagery has sustained, although he is not as big a character on the T-shirt market as his compatriot Che Guevara. Castro was what seemed like almost a gentleman politician who had to hobnob with world leaders. Even though he would be dressed the part of a rebel, it was more like a uniform when it was not seen as an affectation.

I say all this now.

In years when one was acquiring knowledge beyond books, I got to read about the Bay of Pigs. Suddenly, John F. Kennedy became the bad guy. It is not Islamist terrorists that made me appear to be politically anti-US, but these superpower tactics that had not as yet appeared anywhere on the Middle East horizon. The fact that a small bunch of brigand-like leaders could challenge this mighty power had all the trappings of grand romance.

Of course I did not know too much, which is how romances work anyway. Only the peripheral mattered: That Castro was dressed for the part. That he was with Che. That he smoked a cigar (which, incidentally, looked so Hollywood – but the irony of that didn't hit me just then). That the US tried several times to get him killed. That he did not like capitalism ("I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating... because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition.").

This was probably naïve and, some might suggest, hypocritical. Cuba under Castro was like an island known best to the outside world for the stuff that its leader smoked. In that, the freedom-seeking rebel Castro was Cuba, and by appointing his brother Raul as President in his later years, it does seem like he was protecting the cult.

However, there is also a tendency to strip a person of the gloss that perceptions form of him. It might not be inherent, so it is really not his to make or mar. Socialism, which Castro stood for, is indeed an ideal for any society to aspire to. It is not easy to implement in its purest form, though, because somebody 'ushering in equality' is itself an imposition.

US President-elect Donald Trump said, "Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty."

The comment, coming as it does from this man, only proves that what he says about Castro applies to him as much. This statement was not his first. His initial reaction was simply, "Fidel Castro is dead!"

The King is dead. Long live the King. Trump seems to herald his own accession rather than grieve for the Cubans.

In death, should one choose to highlight the good or the evil? Can the evil be interred with him or should it be aired for the sake of verity, of history, even though the truth would be based on who and where you are?

I wonder if Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was thinking about all of this. He paid a fulsome tribute to Castro that has been rebuked. He said: "While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante'."

What? Why? Wtf! Such have been the reactions. I notice that many are conservatives; one of them even wants him to retract his statement and not attend his funeral.

Given how the West operates as extrajudicial keeper of democracy in lands not belonging to it, many in those parts of the world would mourn for none.

The hashtag #trudeaueulogies did a nice tongue-in-cheek turn with examples such as these:

“While a controversial figure, even detractors recognize Pol Pot encouraged renewed contact between city and countryside.”

“Today we say goodbye to Mr. Mussolini, the former Italian prime minister best known for his competent train-management.”

"While Emperor Nero was controversial, his dedication to song and writing poetry signaled a Roman artistic renaissance."

He shall remain remarkable and legendary because he stood up against the mighty. It's a pity his people who suffered could not.  They will remember Fidel Castro the most.

***

Meanwhile in India, we remember that Castro gave Indira Gandhi a hug in Delhi at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in 1983:


20.11.16

Show me the money


For over ten days now, all of India is talking about money. A nation where over 32 per cent people live below the poverty line, and where some have not even seen big denomination currency notes, this itself seems like dark comedy. Dark comedy becomes a reality when the demonetisation move ostensibly introduced to get rid of black money mocks itself with a bureaucrat seeking and getting a bribe in the new currency notes.

On November 8, Prime Minister Modi decided that all ₹500 and ₹1000 notes were not to be legal tender from midnight onwards. This pushed even those who did not have black money to rush and offload these stacks.

A lot has been said and discussed on the subject, and it is rather obvious that the PM's populist move, and the false premise of how such money is used for terror funding, is not going to work this time.

What the overnight tamasha has done, though, is to challenge the social dynamics of class. Suddenly, anybody not categorised as poor is assumed to be rich.

I did not suffer because I did not have too many old notes with me. Just ₹15,000. The just is deliberate when you consider that four people in India would survive on this much for one month. As though this is not humbling enough, there have been stories of deaths, violence, illness, quarrels, hunger, of marriages postponed, of empty markets, half-stocked stores...people are affected.

I thought I was the affected, too. On the first day, I landed up at the bank. This was most unusual for me. I suspect I wanted to experience the moment. A friend I bumped into said, "Why do you need money? I thought you lived on ideas."

"Yes. But what if right now that idea is money?"

In the queue I did not see any poverty. In keeping with its international reputation, the bank was plying us with tea and coffee. We, the few people ahead and behind, were jokey and relaxed. We were more concerned about Americans under Donald Trump. But live jokes can't be played in a loop. After an hour and a bit, I gave up.

My banking is these days restricted to using the ATM. One is in control there and not waiting before a teller who will scrutinise your cheque to authenticate whether your money is indeed yours.

***

The doctor did not have a credit card swiping machine. His secretary pointed at a bundle of notes that were used to return as change. I didn't have the cash and I had got this appointment after a month. "You stay quite nearby, don't you? Then you can issue a cheque."

"Oh, that would be nice. I'll be back soon."

"We have that much trust in you."

I wondered why I was trusted. This was my first visit, we did not know each other. Trust in social situations is based on class factors - I wore a fragrance, was reasonable dressed, seems educated, and spoke in English. Would this courtesy have been extended to a person who would speak in Hindi or Marathi, who would be shabbily dressed?

We, all of us, judge people on superficial aspects. It isn't always wrong to do so, but is it a foolproof yardstick?

***


Eight days later when I managed to get the new notes, I had my first encounter with the streets. At a small store where I made some purchases, I told the seller that I had the ₹2000 notes and he would have to get me the change and, no, I would not accept the old currency. In the next ten minutes he had tapped people around his store and brought me the change, some in ₹10 denomination. 

He was accepting old money because he had no choice. "I wait in the bank for 4 hours to exchange and then come here. Can't afford to lose clients."

"But there is a limit to the amount changed..."

"We try all sources...different banks, different people."

***

At the signal, a eunuch approached me. "Dus, bees rupaiyya de do, sab achcha hoga..."

For 10-20 bucks I was being promised utopia. I had no change and said so.

"To phir 500 de do, saree khareed loongi aur tumko yaad karoongi..."

For 500 bucks, I'd be remembered by a eunuch. 

This was an unusual barter, especially since I have an inbuilt need to be forgotten. 

***

Any such upheaval brings forth genuine sympathy, and then there is a segment that will ride on it. On public fora, such displays reek of opportunism where this becomes one more chance to build up a samaritan profile.