Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Exercising the Deltoids
Throwing is an interesting activity. Not the sort of throwing that happens as part of a well defined sport like cricket, baseball , and the like, where dedicated sportsmen practice for hours together, to make a throw reach its target to wild applause from one million folks in the stands.
When I was a child, I remember we had a 8 mm movie projector in the house. The world wasn't flush with cd's, dvd's and cameras then , and the few movies that we had, were basically home movies made by my father, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello stuff , sent to us by indulgent uncle types . Every showing of home movies would end with an Abbott and Costello movie, by popular demand. I remember being introduced to the concept of throwing pies and birthday cakes at the main characters, who would look suitably shocked with all the cream and frosting clinging to their facial nooks and crevices, not to mention dripping from moustaches. Peals of innocent laughter would always be followed by sneaking a look at my mother, who didn't think this was such a great idea anyway, and was uncomfortable with the popularity of the idea.
In an age, where anything left on the dinner plate elicited heavy parental disapproval, and food was never thrown away, somewhere I used to wonder how in some places folks thought nothing about spending hours on decorating a cake, and then lifting and aiming it at someones face, to spatter all over the room. The thought that someone secretly picked up the pieces, also traversed a confused mind. And I clearly sympathized with whoever had to cleanup the walls and stuff later on.
In public life, throwing of stuff on people who rattle you and people who you disagree with, has always had a connection with democracy. Either you were fighting for it, or it gave you the right to protest, as well as be punished for it under the nations democratic rule.
Recently Leila Deen, an environmental activist from Brighton, was protesting about the Government's decision to proceed with a third runaway at Heathrow Airport. She expressed it by flinging green custard on Lord Peter Mandelson, who was involved in the decision, and was attending a meeting on carbon emissions. Soon after he was elected PM in 1970. Edward Heath was the recipient of a pot of red paint thrown at him by an angry lady outside 10 Downing St. In 1972, Heath, was in Brussels to sign Treaty of Accession to the European Common Market, and got a canister of black printing ink on his face, thanks to a Karen Cooper, who was upset about an urban renewal project in London, but preferred to show it in Brussels.
While electioneering MP's like John Prescott and Ruth Kelly have been targeted with egg on their faces, folks have shown their combined anger when , in the House of Commons, they threw CS gas canisters into the debating chamber in 1970, or when manure rained down on the heads of MPs during a Scottish devolution debate in 1978. Clare Short had four custard pies thrown at her, Nick Brown was a recipient of gooey chocolate eclairs, and Tony Blair, of some overripe organic tomatoes.
A study of history indicates that throwing stuff at people has great precedents.
Thousands of years ago, Vespasian , in line for Roman Emperorship, had to face a barrage of turnips before he could ascend the throne. In medieval times, in England, special things called pillories were erected, in which accused and criminal types were made to sit entangled at the neck and feet, while the public swirled around aiming rotten eggs, tomatoes, refuse, dead cats, and other unmentionable stuff. Sometimes people even died because of this. It appears though , that while in the Mediterranean countries, flinging tomatoes and vegetables at each other was more in the nature of a festive action, in England , it developed into a punishment, often meted out to criminals, people with religious differences , and so on, and thence got exported around the world where colonies existed.
In India, we don't take very kindly to flinging foodstuff. Except maybe red chilly powder (Cayenne pepper). It has been known to have been flung by thieves , and on thieves (by women who were attacked), but politics was never involved. Daler Mehendi, one of India's Punjabi Pop singers, was accused of being involved in an immigration racket, and was pelted with rotten eggs and , tomatoes, by the enraged public, on his way to the court. Very often , someone arrested after a long search for a heinous crime , particularly involving children and so on, is pelted with things and spat upon as they are taken to court, and the police have a tough time. The most disturbing thing one reads about is the flinging of acids and other hurtful liquids on to a girl's face by a rejected suitor. Thanks to the influx of media and entertainment into our lives, for some, dreams are reality, and they emulate the villains in movies, once they realize, that their position as hero is in the doldrums, thanks to the heroines rejection. One sees more and more of such things today, due to the increase in , as they say, crimes of passion.
One of the most interesting things to happen in our legislatures , is the flinging of furniture , with scant regard for the Taxpayers money. Microphone flinging was an old art, and doesn't excite people any more. So once in a while, so many times a year, you suddenly see visuals of enraged legislators, yanking out microphones and flinging them at the speaker or opposition, while simultaneously ducking a chair thrown at them by an opposition member. Guys shaking tables are often aided by their colleagues, so it can be lifted and hurled at someone. Women are often seen participating and then being led out by security in a show of chivalry. The done thing, is to fling the furniture and then rush to the "well" of the House to confront the Speaker, who can't be heard anyway. I don't know who pays for all this . Maybe they have insurance. Who knows.
Election meetings are more interesting. While shoe throwing is old hat, what is actually done with more finesse, is the garlanding of someone with a garland made out of chappals(open toed sandals). This is the ultimate insult, just like the ultimate accolade for someone is to be garlanded with a garland made of currency notes, supposedly for the benefit of the party.
But ever since the Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at ex President George Bush, this custom is seeing a revival.
Chinese Premier Wen faced shoes at Cambridge, England. Kerala's (one of the southern states in India) state CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, recently dodged a pair of chappals flung by a disgruntled partyman, after just having reviewed a guard of honor.Very recently, as recent as yesterday, our Home Minister P. Chidambaram, faced an almost accurate throw of shoes from a Sikh Journalist, who didn't get straight answers at a press briefing, relating to the clearing of charges against someone who was known to have instigated the anti-Sikh riots, post assassination of Indira Gandhi.
And while ducking the shoes, estimating shoe sizes, acting nonchalant, and cracking jokes, and/or acting "forgiving" after the episode may improve your stature amongst the populace, it is very clear today, that the mentality of the citizens is undergoing a change. they will not be fooled, and lulled into some kind of fake assurances of progress, and semi-lies or semi-truths.
It appears, that while the western world is replete with examples of foodstuff being creatively thrown at folks, it still remains an unregulated social custom. In India, I think we specialize in throwing liquids, furniture and items of individual wear.
Else where , there appears to be worrying developments.
Stone throwing at the law enforcement authorities by folks in the Mosques at Srinagar in Kashmir, has come in for criticism from some as an UnIslamic activity. They quote rules from the scriptures. Then there are some who again quote a different part of the scriptures to justify the stone throwing. A burning mixture of the state and religion.
The worst and most disturbing throw has been what we recently saw on video. In the Taliban controlled parts of a Pakistan spiralling into chaos, a teenage girl, publicly being the recipient of the throw of a leather whip, again, and again, and again, 40 times, screaming at them to stop. while her own family members held her by the hands and legs.H er crime ? Being a woman. And communicating with a male electrician in their house.
Democracy there is in danger. The Government there has officially handed over that area to the Taliban to govern. In a world where walls between nations are crumbling, it is disturbing to see a nation , with avowed democratic ideals, slipping deep into medieval chaos, sliding away from progress.
And while one agonizes about a society that gathers to watch the young girl subjected to the throw of the whip, I guess the nation is being thrown into the deep end.
Throwing of the worst kind.