& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Mass Destruction of One Life

 From  C P Surendran's latest novel, One Love And Many Lives Of Osip B, published by Niyogi Books, we give below excerpts from a chapter titled,  The Mass Destruction of One Man. The excerpts deal with the disintegration of a writer, Arjun Bedi, facing allegations of sexual misconduct , who is the mentor to the teenage protagonist of the novel, Osip B.

When I arrived at Whispering Woods, there were already people in Arjun’s living room. The smell of alcohol and tobacco mixed with perfumes licensed the air. The hall was packed. It was late, though guests still trickled in.

‘But you had a birthday party earlier in the year!’ I said.

‘This is the roaring ’20s. We hurtle from one drunken party to another.’ Arjun put an arm around me. ‘That was for Maina. This one is for me, but it is quite political in its purpose.

I must fight by all means the daily and mass destruction of my one life. With silence, cunning, and parties, pagans and vegans all welcome!’


‘They want to see blood. The crowd needs to see fresh blood. It has a way of turning everything into a sport.’

It seemed unfair to ask him for help.

‘Everything all right?’ Arjun asked.


‘What’s it?’

‘The thing is…Can you come to my school?’

‘What for?’

I told him in an urgent whisper, every word I uttered more absurd than the one preceding it.

‘This is serious business, OB. How did you get into this mess? You are worse than me. But I am afraid I can’t get into this, not now.’ 

‘You are a famous man. A great writer.’

‘Fame is what they can use against you. Remember what I told you some time back? You wouldn’t believe it, it is organized frenzy.’ Arjun looked around. ‘These little parties I throw are my way of holding on to what little I have. It’s a dangerous world now, anyone can work out their revenge from rest rooms, you understand? These are toilet revolutionaries,’ Arjun grimaced. ‘But, what the hell are you up to? An affair with your teacher followed by murder?’

‘No, not murder. Exhumation.’

‘It’s as good as murder. Hell, it is worse!’

Three retired men of the military came up to Arjun and wished him happy returns loudly. Their chests were covered in stars and medals. The shorter, thickset one, with a luxuriant, twirled mustache, seemed always one step ahead of the other two.

‘You must formally join our political party, Arjun Saab,’ the short general said, staring hard at Arjun. But his eyes twinkled. ‘You promised.’ They had, it turned out, recently started a political outfit at the behest of Arjun.

‘Ah, my generals,’ Arjun said. ‘India’s best.’

‘We registered the party. You can’t back out now,’ the second man said.

‘The New India Political Party, NIP,’ the third said.

‘RIP?’ Arjun said.

The generals laughed helplessly, holding on to each other's shoulders.

‘Arjun Saab, Arjun Saab,’ the leader shook his head as if Arjun was too much. ‘Really, you are our star. Our torch. Our…’ He looked around at his friends for help, but they only smiled in encouragement.

‘Of course I will join NIP. On one condition, but.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ll be the treasurer. For life.’

They all threw their heads back and laughed again. They were an uproarious bunch.

‘Jokes aside, Arjun Saab, the retired soldiers of this country can no longer bear to see the nation going down the drain. It’s as you might say, RIP India or NIP India.’ The short general said. ‘We are looking for a writer with the rank of a general.’

‘All right then, I will be your Maxim Gorky.’

The generals raised their eyebrows.

‘He was the head of Union of Writers under Stalin,’ Arjun said.

‘M. applied to him for two sweaters and a pair of trousers. He didn’t get the trousers, I think,’ I said.

‘This is Osip Bala Krishnan. He is Russian,’ Arjun repeated his old joke.

They ignored me.

‘Let’s talk about NIP.’

‘Aren’t we all a bit too old to start a change-India party? Mind you, I am not talking about me,’ Arjun said.

‘You will bring the average age down, Arjun Saab,’ the second general said. Everybody laughed again. One of the generals shook his head as if to say this is just too much. He had tears in his eyes.

‘Really, we are as good as the young,’ the short general said. ‘I challenge anyone here to hand-wrestle me.’ He looked around the room, but mostly in the direction of a woman in blue jeans and kurta. There was a bespectacled young man with her, holding her wine glass as she was answering a call; her other hand was in a sling. ‘What corruption! Moral, financial, physical. Is this what our founding fathers sacrificed their lives for?’

‘Are you addressing me, or my neighbour, general?’ Arjun said. ‘Careful. That’s Dev and Diya. They represent the rights of the underprivileged and head a social media campaign against me. I have some trouble on the patriarchal front as you might know.’

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ The general with tears of joy in his eyes said.

‘Love thine own neighbour, not mine,’ Arjun said.

This time the three generals nearly doubled up with laughter. The short general put out a hand in the direction of Arjun, pleading with him not to be so funny. ‘I may be gazing elsewhere, but I look up to you,’ the short general said, straightening up. ‘As for the campaign against you, it is chaff in the wind, Arjun Saab. Nothing will shake our faith in you.’

The short general hugged Arjun briefly, and turned their attention to someone seemingly important entering, a politician, from the white khadi he was wearing, and marched toward him.

Arjun swallowed a drink neat and gravitated to Dev and Diya, who had moved out into the balcony. I straggled along by Arjun’s side in grim fascination.

‘I have had to work on through someone to make them come here,’ Arjun whispered. I later learned that the 'someone' was the old man with the German shepherd. He was Diya's uncle—and Arjun's friend—and the couple were living in a flat of his in the building, a rent-free arrangement, Arjun said.

Dev and Diya were stiff, and it was clear they wanted to stay by themselves. They had done Arjun a favour dropping by.

‘Dev and Diya, Thank you for coming.’

‘We will be only a minute here.’ They seemed assured and self-sufficient in the strength of their good intentions.

‘Of course. I know you are fighting a good cause. And this is perhaps not the time to ask…’

‘No,’ they said in unison.

‘I am not a tactful person…’

‘We know that, don’t we, Dev?’

‘I knew this was why he insisted we come. Don’t tell me I did not warn you.’ Dev said to Diya.

‘I can’t help it, and I didn’t think I would say it, but all these daily mass mails to publishers, festivals, editors …,’ Arjun said.

‘Well?’ Diya said.

‘It seems so much work.’

‘Mr Bedi, please don’t worry about our workload. We will stop when you apologize,’ Diya said.

‘Apologize for what?

‘For your nude dancing and provocative comments and sexist columns. There were many good people in that party. They are deeply offended.’

‘It was a rave party…so many years ago.’

‘But only you were nude. And you put your arm around a victim’s waist.’

‘I was wearing something, not much, I admit, but something.’

‘But you were the only one nude,’ Dev said.

‘There were others in other rooms.’

'Mr Bedi, a writer must represent the spirit of his age, and overcome it. You have failed,’ Dev looked away in resignation.

‘At a seminar, you said, “What’s everybody’s problem with the dick!”’ Diya said.

‘It was both a joke and a question,’ Arjun said.

‘Your whole discourse is wrong,’ Diya shook her head.

‘And your columns! We can’t allow that kind of writing. You may think it is daring and intellectually provocative. That is your vanity. It is just bad form and poor taste.’ Dev shook his head of long curls. ‘And one poem that turned up on my computer last night, something about the Dark Spider.’

‘“Dolomedes Tenebrosus: Spontaneous Male Death” was the title. The dark spider eats the male partner after sex.’

‘You called the female spider a “b…h”. Language is a social tool, Mr Bedi,’ Dev said. ‘There are norms to be observed. These are sensitive times. There is a historical correction to be made in favour of the female gender…’

‘In favour of Dalits and children, too.’ Diya’s large, earnest eyes left no room for doubt about her commitment to her cause.

‘In favour of the wronged people. What we stand for is a certain much-needed correction in patriarchal politics,’ Dev said. ‘We are conscientious citizens of this country, Mr Bedi, and we can’t let a few things happen on our watch—even if the government is not of our choice, and we have no executive powers,’ Dev’s eyes bored into Arjun’s. ‘We have an obligation toward civilized society. But this is no place to talk about such matters, is it?’

C P Surendran

‘You are depriving me of my right to earn a living, in effect. That’s not a constitutional or even a liberal thing to do. Any accused has the right to speech and work. In any case, you are not the court,’ Arjun said.

It appeared to me that the intended reconciliatory meeting was not going the right way.

‘If the State is regressive, and the institutions are failing us, the citizen must step forward as the culture dispenser. There’s no space in our world for exploitation of any kind,’ Dev said.

‘You know you are guilty, don’t you, Mr Bedi?’ Diya said.


‘The fact is your kind of voice has had its day,’ Dev said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Self-critical expression, censorship, freedom of speech & hate speech

Self-critical expression lends a moderate hue to any issue under debate. It can and does have a positive impact on artists and journalists. Both artists and journalists have to necessarily walk the tightrope between freedom of expression as enshrined by the law, and hate speech, which is prohibited by the law. And there is a thin line that divides these two concepts. Self-critical expression rather than censorship is the key to a democratic society. Self-critical expression is self regulated; censorship is imposed by an extraneous authority.

Self-critical expression is inherent to any conversation where more than one view is being debated or discussed. An individual develops and comes to hold views and opinions over several years, and through borrowed or lived experiences. These often turn into dogmas and are justified as ideology. 

The easiest way to test them is to put them through the test of a sincere discourse. When one hears another side of a fiercely or a dearly held opinion in a debate, one begins to comprehend another dimension to that opinion. And that, in an individual who is open minded, results in a better understanding of any issue. Significantly, even if the person doesn’t change her views on the subject, this exchange of views is important because it provides her with a wider perspective.

For a journalist, self-criticism is not always necessary. For a reporter, it is easy to overcome an inherent bias by actively seeking a view or views that are diametrically opposed to her views. This is prima facie of paramount importance to ensure balance in reportage.

However, one must draw a line in being fair. Fairness should not automatically mean that two opposite views are considered and included in a news report to make it balanced. On some occasions, it is not at all necessary to appear to be fair, especially when one is reporting about hate crimes, police brutality, sexual abuse of minors, gender-based inequality.

Also, columnists are read, and are popular and controversial mainly because they hold a point of view which is biased and almost never self-critical. The most recent example is of Don Cherry, the sports broadcaster, who was fired in 2019 because he made unguarded comments about immigrants not wearing poppies for Remembrance Day.

Censorship in the media is as old as media itself. There are multiple reasons for censorship in the media, but the main reason is to earn revenue. The other is to adhere to socio-cultural and political moorings of the society within which the media operates.

The media in the West cannot stop finding fault (justifiably) with autocratic societies, where religious or political ideologies, determine societal debate. But the same media doesn’t see anything wrong with the inherent fault lines in Western societies.

For instance, in Canadian media, there isn’t enough exploration and dissection of the continuing absence of adequate reportage of issues pertaining to Canada’s indigenous population, and their right over Canada’s lands and resources.    

I don’t think there is anything wrong in criticizing religion or an ideology objectively. However, almost always such criticism is based on prejudice and is motivated by hate.

The government, the establishment plays an important role in this debate. In his essay The Etymology of Terror, published in New York Review of Books, Matt Seaton says, “We have reached, then, a point in the etymology of terror at which governments have assumed the right to designate any specific person or group, literally anyone they don’t like, as terrorists. By one new standard for terrorism, it can apply to human rights lawyers and researchers who irritate government officials, because to decry state violence has become itself a terrorist crime. By the other new standard, it can apply to anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—the time and place being lethally adjacent to wherever the US is hunting “war on terror” adversaries.”

Prejudice can only be combatted through objectivity. Such objectivity must necessarily include self-critical expression. Lee Marcle, the eminent Metis author, who recently passed away, narrated a poignant incident to the CBC when her book I am Woman was published in 1988. She asked to be included in the Vancouver Writers Festival to launch her book of essays, but was denied an invitation. “So I went there and got up on stage and grabbed the mic and I did a reading,” she said. “I said, ‘Right now you are in my village, this is my original village and I am going to read here.’”

The situation has changed today, but not much. I think, it is important for the non-mainstream artist to create a parallel mainstream that promotes their respective culture within the Canadian milieu, and context. We can only fight neglect and hate by creating an alternative space that promotes an alternative interpretation of a Canada that we want to create. This requires proactive intervention, and not blaming.

In his essay Canadian multiculturalism and national identity – a 50-year relationship, Varun Uberoi of Brunel University, London, England, says, “…if people’s conceptions of their political community include cultural minorities as normal and equal members of it, these conceptions help a culturally diverse citizenry to visualize themselves as a group. But those with such inclusive conceptions are also less likely to exclude and discriminate against minorities as minority cultural differences are not seen as something to fear or to avoid.” (Published in Multiculturalism at 50 and the promise of a just society, CITC Canadian Issues).

There isn’t adequate concern over the general ignorance of the Canadian mainstream to the rich diversity that has been (and is being) created in Canada politically. Multiculturalism is 50 years old. And while it has achieved much, it is in essence an empty slogan. 

New Writing


Lease - short story published in the Maple Tree Literary Supplement



“I hired a private detective to check your past,” Myrna said.

“You did what?” the wine almost sputtered out of my mouth and I quickly gulped it. I gaped at her, as my jaw dropped.

“I was letting you in my home; I had to take precautions. Nathan – the real estate agent – and Deb agreed.”

I had no idea what to say or to do. Finally, after sitting in a daze for a while, I put down the wine glass and got up to leave. She didn’t stop me. On my way down to the basement, I decided it was time for me to move out, to rent a new place.

Myrna knocked on the door the next morning. She walked in, carrying two mugs in one hand and a kettle in the other, the dog rushed inside, and sniffed at my legs.

“Good morning. Let us have tea together. You left abruptly last night.” She handed me the mug and poured hot tea in it. She seemed flustered, she sat on the only chair in the room, as I walked to the bed. I was groggy and feeling heavy in the head.

“Look, I am sorry.”

I looked at her and took a sip of tea. It instantly cleared my head. “I am curious to know, what did the detective find out?”

“Oh, nothing at all of any consequence.”

“You did find something recently because your attitude changed.”

“Yes, thanks to a huge coincidence. Deb met your stepdaughter’s partner Ruth. She gave you a glowing reference; told her something about how years back you saved their relationship by arguing with your ex not to force your stepdaughter to go to Kitchener.”

I was again gaping at her; speechless and clueless. I sipped tea without talking. Then, I told her that I would be moving out.

“I know you are upset, and I said I am sorry, and I mean it. I will make it up for you.”

I kept quiet. I had to move out. I wanted to ask her but didn’t whether she would have gone through such a vigorous process to ascertain the past of a renter, if that person was white.

Interview in the Artisanal Writer

To me it posed a challenge of portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada, and I’m not a Muslim. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation.’ Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil? I was born in a Hindu family, but my dad was a socialist, and I grew up to be an atheist. Also, as a journalist, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93 and recorded the misery Indian Muslims suffered. Pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over 25 years. I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that is palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create. I have done so in Belief, and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.