Tag Archives: aesthetics

The (Auto)Rakshasa and the Citizen

A petition from an organization called Change India invaded my Facebook wall today right before – rather ironically, it turns out— my morning auto ride. The petition is filed under a category on the site called “petitions for economic justice.” When you open it, the image pasted below opens. A sharp fanged, dark skinned “auto-rakshasa” demands one-and-a-half fare. The commuter is “harassed.” The petition that accompanies this image urges the ACP of police to create “an efficient system” so that complaints made to report auto-drivers who overcharge or refuse to ply can be tracked. How, it asks, can “concerned Bangalorean citizens” expect “justice” if their complaints are not tracked?  We all must, it urges, “join the fight.”


Let me first say quite clearly that I do not mean to undermine the intentions and frustrations of those who launched this campaign and, yes, when the meter goes on without asking, it eases a morning commute significantly. The question is: if this does not happen at times (and indeed it doesn’t) then why is this so and what does one do about it? There is a lot to be said about the economics of the issue itself and I welcome others reading who know more to write about it more extensively. But this piece is not about that. It is about the campaign itself and how we articulate political questions in our cities. It is fundamentally about the easy, unremarked way in which a working urban resident and citizen – who is also, after all, a “fellow Bangalorean” and concerned with “economic justice”– can be termed and portrayed a “rakshasa” as if it were a banal utterance.

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Slumdog as aesthetic

The Oscars have passed us by, leaving us with moments that op-ed writers could possibly only dream up: bollywood dancers on an Oscar stage; two of the three nominees for Best Song being sung in a language nearly the entire audience couldn’t even identify let alone speak; the English-speaking of the bevy of ‘India’s children’ translating the English questions into Marathi for the ‘kid from an actual slum’ in a we’re-all-one-across-the-ocean-moment; and, of course, the most harmonious moment of India-is-England-is-India convergence since the founding of the East India Company. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

So what does any of this have to do with slums? Let me be clear: this is not a tirade against the movie in any way. It actually isn’t about the movie at all. It is though about the one thing that the movie has brought back into our attention but that, somehow, no one actually seems to be talking about – that thing called the slum. Slumdog and the debates, protests, and celebrations around it, in equal measure, seem to beg a question: how do we, as Indians who are not Danny Boyle, think about the slum? How should we? Can Slumdog teach us a trick or two about our own backyards?

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