The assassination of another great warrior-poet…long live Gauri Lankesh

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Yet another voice stamped out by the forces of fascism and farce in India.

This hits a little closer home.

The city of my childhood is beautiful Bangalore no more, but is now officially McTrumpuluru, clad in saffron, choking on it’s own polluted contradictions, infused with an abominable lack of humanity.

But the cold-blooded assassination that took place yesterday in Bangalore, is part of a violently depressing pattern across towns and cities in South and South West India; Bangalore just marks another nail in the coffin of the fascists; the assassination of yet another great voice of progress and reason. The martyrdom  of a warrior-poet who never took a step back in her glorious fight against the venomous right-wing forces that plague our times, Gauri Lankesh’s legacy will blaze a path forward for many, many others who will rise in her stead.

The forces of fascism and farce keep martyring great minds in various cities and towns around the Southwestern coast and inland in a curiously similar fashion. They seem to target those who light the way for others in life and death, particularly those who work utilizing vernacular media forms and are involved as rhizomatic figures in regionally strong, grassroots progressive movements in South and South West India, particularly Maharashtra and Karnataka (both states that the central, ruling BJP party, curiously enough, has established regional presences in but not as dominating political forces, which is what they desire.)

All the martyred warrior-poets were those who could clearly influence large numbers of people.

Narendra Dabholkar, anti-godmen and anti-superstition activist, martyred August 20th 2013, Pune. Shot at point blank range by gunmen on a motorcycle while on his morning walk.

Govind Pansare, leftist activist and best-selling regional author, martyred February 20th 2015, Mumbai. Shot at point blank range by gunmen on a motorcycle on Feb 16th, 2015 along with his wife, Uma Pansare, also a leftist activist, while returning from their morning walk. She survived the assassination attempt and continues to do courageous work in the area.

M.M. Kalburgi, progressive literary scholar and anti-superstition activist, martyred August 30th 2015, Dharwad. Shot at point blank range at his home in the morning by gunmen on a motorcycle.

And now Gauri Lankesh, progressive activist and editor of an influential regional weekly, martyred September 5th 2017, Bangalore. Shot at point blank range when returning home at night after work by gunmen on a motorcycle.

Oh, and did I mention that there are reports of cops thinking that the same fucking weapon might have been used in more than one of these murders? Not to mention the fact that they already have an organization as a prime suspect in the first three of them? Yeah, the Sanatan Sanstha, a fringe, Goa-based Hindu nationalist organization (with the most benign fucking website on the planet) but with direct ties to the mothership of Hindu nationalism, the RSS, via some militant group called the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

If this doesn’t smell of some larger conspiracy to bump off voices of freedom and reason, I don’t know what does. And it took me all of two Google searches to get the above information.

I don’t have all the answers. Clearly the authorities who seem to move at the lightning pace of thick, viscousy molasses when it comes to these investigations don’t either. Or maybe they do and are just corrupted by majoritarian fascism – something the South Asian subcontinent is well susceptible to.

But at least I’m part of a growing majority in India and within the diaspora who will not allow ourselves to be cowed down by the ignorance and malevolence of the Hindu nationalist supporters infesting the diverse and gorgeous global ethos of the subcontinent. We will follow, in our own humble ways, the paths that have been blazed by our great warrior-poets.

Indeed, if I may cynically paraphrase the breathtaking lack of vision and intellect shown by the Hindu fascists and their running dogs as they keep martyring our great lights…

How dumb are they?

What the hell were they thinking?

That fear and intimidation would actually work?

Idiots.

Right now, as I write this, there are thousands upon thousands of budding journalists, activists, intellectuals, truth seekers, and bearers of free thought who are fired up to be the next Gauri Lankesh, the next Dabholkar, the next Pansare, the next Kalburgi across the length and breadth of India – with a spark lit in their souls that no text or philosophical thought could have ever achieved.

Hindu fascists, like fascists everywhere, are too stupid and cowardly to realize that by martyring our lights, they do nothing but sow the seeds for thousands more to rise in their stead, super-charging the advancement of social and cultural progress.

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A brief thought on Dravidian matriarchal spirituality

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A recent article I read on institutionalized transphobia in India sparked a little thought journey for me around gender identity and indigenous spiritualities.

Specifically it led me to realize how little we know of the inherent gender egalitarianism and fluidity in Dravidian and other indigenous spiritualities of the subcontinent (and by “we” I mean those of us utilizing neocolonial, Eurocentric, patriarchal norms of understanding sexuality and gender).

Probably this is because these matriarchal spiritualities only exist in corrupted forms in India and South Asia now (albeit having sizeable influence still) – having been brutalized by many centuries of Aryan patriarchy, caste-based Manuwadi Hinduism, and misogynistic Abrahamic religious dogma. This has resulted in a multi-generational, multi-millennia erasure and subversion of these indigenous, Dravidian, feminist spiritual practices and norms…norms rooted in Dravidian matriarchy and liberated, fiery goddesses (who would normally kick the ever loving shit out of any fair skinned male god, bearded or otherwise).

In India and South Asia as a whole (not to mention parts of East Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Mediterranean while we’re at it), I do believe if we go back far enough we will realize a time when we all were part of matriarchal societies that worshiped various versions of the divine feminine as well as the earth and non-human souls – and those times could well give us templates to engage with in order to reject current patriarchal religions (all of the major ones today across earth) and the oppressive social, political, and economic ways of thinking and living that these religions spawn.

Currently I’m particularly interested in South Asian Dravidian matriarchal spirituality because it’s personally very dear to me. And it’s not as much of a stretch as one might imagine to reach back in time to understanding these matriarchal spiritual roots. A brief exploration of Giti Thadani’s Moebius Trip reveals a stunningly beautiful glimpse into past societies in the South Asian lands, mostly Dravidian-rooted societies, even going as far back as the Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization (which many now consider to be a proto-Dravidian civilization) where the divine feminine, as well as matriarchal and/or matrifocal or at the very least gender-egalitarian and/or gender just norms prevailed.

Of course, ever since the invasion of Aryan patriarchy – the foundation for the current misogynistic, Manuwadi caste-based Hinduism – and the strong global influence of the major Abrahamic patriarchal religions, the older matriarchal forms of spirituality have been marginalized, subsumed, and heavily corrupted by the major patriarchal and misogynistic spiritual forces of today.

But the great spiritual matriarchs still live on – in the subcontinent and across the earth. Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are still prominent goddesses across India and especially in the South and East but with major influence in the North as well. In many regional societies and cultures, again especially in the South and East as far as I can tell, goddesses like Mariamman, Yellamma, Periyachee and many others provide spiritual foundations for countless people.

No doubt, many of these practices are steeped in regressive traditions, but I’m sure that as we slowly move towards genuine matriarchal societies, the more oppressive practices will be whittled away – and these goddesses can help subvert the multi-generational patriarchal narratives from within the heart and soul.

For I do strongly believe that it’s not much of a stretch of imagination to refashion our matriarchal roots for the modern era, an era where we dismantle (occasionally with fire) the dominant patriarchal social, economic, political, cultural and – perhaps most crucially – spiritual frameworks of today.

Referenced texts (and recommended readings):

Thadani, G. (2007[2003]). Moebius Trip: Digressions from India’s Highways. Spinefex Press.

Harris, R. (2007). “Aryan Patriarchy and Dravidian Matriarchy” in Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything. Link (accessed on June 5, 2016): http://www.integralworld.net/harris32.html

Why I believe all Indians should support Kashmir’s liberation

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An opinion piece published in the June, 2016 Issue of The Kashmirwalla:

Why I believe all Indians should support Kashmir’s liberation

(here’s the url in case the link doesn’t work: http://thekashmirwalla.com/2016/06/all-indians-should-support-kashmirs-liberation/)

 

The Valley that stole my heart

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I wrote a political travelogue about Kashmir during a trip made a while back. It was published in The Kashmir Walla in their 5th Anniversary Issue, hot off the presses this month! Please click on the following link for the piece and do peruse their lovely publication:

The Valley that stole my heart

(or if that doesn’t work, here’s the url – http://thekashmirwalla.com/2016/05/the-valley-that-stole-my-heart/)

 

Race, caste, and friendship

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When I was in grad school in Baltimore finishing up an M.S. in the 2003-2004 academic year, I had quite a few Indian friends around the Baltimore-DC area. Apart from spending time with some distant relatives, I followed the scent of quasi-cultural safety and found my way to an organized group of Indian students who raised money for charities in India. Notwithstanding the somewhat tepid, middle-of-the-road politics in the group, it did give me a few Indian friends who provided a connection to the homeland and the painlessness of not having to culturally translate everything that was said. They were, thankfully, substantially better to interact with than the feudal morons in my previous port-of-call.

Speaking in a mixture of English and whatever Indian tongue suited our fancy, cracking cross-cultural jokes, whipping out puns that required an innate understanding of pop-culture in different parts of South Asia – being with South Asian friends is (and always will be) comforting no matter where I am outside the subcontinent.

At Hopkins, the fact that I briefly fell in love with one of them, while cultivating a nice, albeit very temporary, friendship with another only served to consolidate that bond. In addition, included in the group was a cousin of mine, who had come to the university the year before.

Something happened when I was with my Indian friends. Instantly I was no longer a walking poster-boy for the entire Indian or South Asian community. I didn’t need to step out of my comfort zone in order to interact. I could be myself; the stares and second looks from white folk didn’t pierce me as they did when I was alone. My accent could seamlessly shift from neutral to desi. I didn’t have to constantly watch myself to ensure I wasn’t garnering too much attention. There were no awkward, plastic smiles that one received from folks uncomfortable with who you were and not knowing how to engage with you.

Intriguingly, I had less in common with my Indian buddies in Hopkins than I would have normally needed for lasting friendships. It made me think twice about the power of being with folks who had superficially similar cultural moorings when navigating another world. It was the anxiety of assimilation in a new society that made one assimilate only partially while concurrently seeking a bubble of manufactured comfort. In India, I would have thought they were nice enough to have as acquaintances but probably not as friends, since I had the privilege to be able to cultivate bonds with those whom I was closer to politically and philosophically. In Baltimore, for those nine months, they were my entire world.

Sometimes you needed to travel thousands of miles to learn a little something about the place you just left.

Socially my Indian friends in Hopkins and I came from similar backgrounds. Middle to upper-middle class families, educated in English-medium school and colleges, armed with sufficient privilege to be able to pursue graduate studies in the West. With the class stratification of Indian society, this essentially meant that barring one or two exceptions, we all came from the so-called upper caste Hindu communities.

In short, we were the privileged white people of India.

And, interestingly enough, it was these somewhat similar social roots that brought about some of the sharpest political divisions between me and my friends.

In order to better explain this and highlight what for me was one of the most acute manifestations of this division, I will have to briefly shift to a little primer on one particular, longstanding policy of the Indian government.

It’s called Reservation.

You see, India has its own Affirmative Action program. From a purely legislative angle it is, in my humble opinion, even stronger than what one might see in the States. Most people around the world have heard of the abhorrent caste system. It performs a similar function in India to what race might perform in the Western world with respect to dividing the haves and have-nots. Indeed, I have found many white folk in America and Europe talk about caste with, dare I suggest, a hint of satisfaction that their own class stratification systems seem less intolerant in comparison – a bit of a pass I imagine from dealing with their own shit. But scale of oppression apart, most Indians would be hard-pressed to argue against the viciousness of the caste system, unless they choose to adopt the ostrich technique of sticking their heads in the proverbial sand, or up their not-so-proverbial asses. Those doing so, as is easily guessable, consist almost entirely of upper-caste Hindus. I should know, because it was the community I grew up in.

But somewhere along the line, through a combination of parents who encouraged me to question and learn, as well as some very eye-opening activism in India via participation in an anti-fascist movement that gave me inspiring comrades across caste, religious, and class divides, I was thankfully brought to a better understanding. As I journeyed into more progressive political frameworks, I soon had to face up to my own privilege, the way the system in India worked in my favor from the get-go, and how it was built on the bleeding backs of those who had historically been most brutalized by the caste system. One of the results of that (still ongoing) journey of reflection was that I became one of the most ardent believers in the Reservation system quite early on in my youth (my father, being a bit of a self-identified Nehruvian socialist, inculcated in me the importance of “correcting longstanding injustices with government policies that benefit the historically oppressed”).

Now, everyone knew that Reservation as a policy needed to be honed and bettered. But it was also one that was desperately needed as a minuscule, hardly-sufficient, state policy that attempted to undo centuries of brutal caste-based oppression – something which continues in full force in India to this day, regardless of legislation.

It was in discussing Reservation that I realized how wide the gulf was between me and my Indian friends in Hopkins (and frankly, the overwhelming majority of upper caste Hindus in India and around the world). They were all manifestly against it, many offensively so. And because they had the advantage of numbers, the arguments that we had on the topic often played out under the paradigm of the lone, shrill, lefty weirdo arguing against those of apparently reasonable tongue and mind. There’s a way in which numbers help in lending a façade of authenticity to unjust frameworks.

I couldn’t really blame them (though I did want to occasionally beat the ever loving crap out of them). Were I to have missed the kinds of providential political experiences I was lucky enough to have, I would have joined them in their thinking.

Occasionally I ventured a couple of similar  conversations with American friends in the university community, white ones that is, who joined us for get-togethers or hangouts. Sometimes I had conversations with white folk in my classes. It was during those brief times that I understood the sterile stencil with which privilege etched itself on humanity. There was a deeply disturbing correlation with their disavowal of Affirmative Action programs in the States and my Indian buddies’ disdain for Reservation in India.

We were in Johns Hopkins after all. This was the place where an overwhelmingly black janitorial staff cleaned the halls and restrooms used by a student/teacher population consisting of white people, East Asians, and South Asians. Reservation and Affirmative Action were both the same – programs to haughtily dismiss while casting aspersions that they diluted merit or unfairly discriminated against deserving candidates. It was a place where centuries of racism in America and centuries of caste oppression in India could be blotted out from living memory in one fell self-congratulatory swoop. It was a place where those benefiting from different structures of oppression, thousands of miles apart, mostly unrelated, with different histories and local conditions, could find congruence in a false meritocracy. Had I gone to Spellman College or Howard University, my guess (or hope) is that it would have been a little different.

It made me realize that those who acted as the white folk of India where ultimately not a whole lot different, save a few nuances, than white folk elsewhere. It also made me realize that the institution I was in attracted, for the most part, people of a similar ilk regardless of skin color or ethnicity. All of us Indians who came here to study – we assimilated well. We were the acceptable people of color, who kept our heads down and didn’t assert ourselves too much. We filled the color quota of universities without shaking up the system. We didn’t have the history in America that our black and latino brethren had, so we came with a clean slate. We would be supplicant and grateful for having been let into the country to pursue our so-called potential. We didn’t cause trouble with pesky demands for reparations or restorative justice, because we didn’t like those demands when they were made in our own neck of the woods. We didn’t express anything other than pure and unadulterated willingness to integrate, while making sure our cuisine and movies provided non-intrusive pleasure to the society we were integrating into. We were the immigrants whom xenophobic bigots could tout as the kind of immigrants America wanted, unlike those “illegals” from south of the border. We could be the exotic friends of the white folk, without scaring them. We could give them the pass they needed from their history and, in turn, they gave us the pass we needed from ours. We would willingly play second fiddle, and not even dare to seek the lead. Be offended? Pfft…we would oh-so gladly be the Tonto to their Lone Ranger, the Kato to their Green Hornet, the Apu to their Homer Simpson (hell, we wouldn’t even give a crap that America’s most beloved Indian is voiced in breathtakingly racist fashion by Hank Azaria).

And if they declined our offers of compliant companionship, we would thank them nevertheless for their consideration, revert back to our own little bubbles, not cause trouble, and work hard in exactly the way they would like us to.

Wait…

Did I hear someone say model minority?

My transnational accent: Spawned out of a lot of cultural crazy.

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Off late I’ve realized that my accent has changed.

Quite possibly a lot.

Back home in India, I had a distinctly Bangalorean Tamil, accent (as opposed to Bangalorean Kannadiga, Bangalorean Northy, Bangalorean Bengali, Bangalorean Telugu and so on), but also one that reflected the fact that English was my first language. The language I dreamed in.  English was, for all practical purposes, my mother tongue – alongside Tamil of course (us Dravidians are nothing if not linguistic elitists and could never accept a non-Dravidian language as our primary one, no matter how badly some of us might speak the languages of our ancestors.)

Nevertheless, while English was indeed my first language, it was a distinctly personal language, it was my English, spoken in my accent. Not American. Certainly not British. Not some generic, Hank-Azaria-voiced, North American stereotype of an accent.

For I was the son of Radha and Ananth, a mother and father who spoke to me in a Dravidian-Anglo linguistic mix of more-English-than-Tamil to me and my friends, and more-Tamil-than-English to each other and their families. (Add to that the Malayalam on my mother’s side, the Kannada in Bangalore, the Hindi of Bollywood, the Tamil of Kollywood, not to mention the languages of my friends – and you have a helluva mix.)

Now, Amma and Appa spoke to me in that mix of more-English-than-Tamil because I do believe that somewhere deep down they knew that I would have greater opportunities for myself in this Euramerican, colonial world if English was my first language.

Bless their souls. For all my Dravidian spiritualism (and occasional nationalism), I do know that English is one of the reasons I have made a transnational home across Toronto, Minneapolis, and Bangalore, with my awesome warrior-goddess of a partner and a burgeoning community of loved ones in each place.

Thus, my accent was one cultivated partly due to my parents’ foresight to ensure I spoke English from the get go, while ensuring that my Tamil wasn’t forgotten (even if slightly broken). It was a rich, beautiful-as-fuck linguistic environment I grew up in, quite effectively reflected in my accent.

When I left Bangalore in 2002 for a brief while to live in Gujarat, I think my English accent changed a touch, primarily because my spoken Hindi was forced to get much better due to the nature of my work there. (It still rankles me ever so slightly that my spoken Hindi is better than my spoken Tamil, but that will hopefully change as I start parenting.)

When I moved to the States, a mix of lefty political anger, racism that I faced, and a touch of assimilation anxiety in a white-dominated, settler-colonial society had me very rapidly shift to a more neutral accent. One that often had Americans remark at my “British accent” – making me cringe every time, while still secretly gladdening me since it proved I could blend in with greater ease into Euramerican societies when I needed to.

The accent shifted a bit with each move that I made. Baltimore. Boston. New Delhi. Minneapolis. Toronto.

Occasional racist jokes or references to crude Indian stereotypes by so-called friends in different North American cities shifted the accent in different ways. Often in defiance, but also in survival.

Whenever I visited friends and family in India, some would pass comments on my “American accent” or “Westernized accent”. And little shifts in the accent would occur each time. Usually quite subtle and probably unnoticeable to no one save myself.

But incrementally I do believe, especially after Sus and I moved to Toronto, I developed a rather unique transnational accent. One that shifts, depending on the company and environment, while still remaining very firmly mine. With Sus and I building community and family across three very different cities, two Euramerican, one Indian, the shift occasionally even catches me by surprise.

The best part about it, however, is that I’m able to experience laughter, satire, and sarcasm with the same linguistic diversity as the myriad sources for my proudly mongrel accent. The razor-sharp Tamil humor and Tam Bram cynicism of my parents, usually directed at our own communities. The laugh-out-loud goofery of Tamil and Hindi movies. Bollywood. Kollywood. Of course Hollywood. And British comedy. Good and bad. Plus a lot of American sitcoms. Good and bad. Not to mention my warrior-goddess of a partner and our daily humor. As well as that of all of our loved ones (including our cats).

That’s a lot of sources for one accent.

And that’s a lot of cultural crazy for one tongue.

 

A message to all Hindu fascists upon the election of their messiah in India

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https://loveliberationstruggle.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/93fd6-nomore.jpg

(Image source: http://www.sacw.net/article7143.html)

It’s been over a month since I witnessed, with vicarious trauma, the meteoric rise of Narendra Modi to become one of the world’s most powerful men, commanding one of the world’s most brutal, nuclear-armed militaries. The two weeks of hopeless depression are over, and a slow, lightly simmering anger has set in. I believe it is time now to write a brief message to all Hindu fascists upon the election of their messiah in India.                             

Let me start with a caveat – I know that most of the people who voted for this speck of human refuse are not fascists and certainly not desiring the implementation of a fascist program in India. Indeed, I’m sure that many held their noses and voted for this piece of garbage, mostly by way of countering the uselessness and corruption of that giant pile of shit known as the Congress Party. But there are some folks (in India and, just as disconcertingly, among the Indian Diaspora) right now celebrating the arrival of the Great Hindu Hope, the torchbearer who will turn India into a theocratic Hindu state, who will suppress minorities and forge a raging Hindu Rashtra from the fire and brimstone of the hellish smelter known as Hindutva.

This message is for them:

Live it up you miserable minions of hate. Have your little celebration, do your little dance, drink your little libation, thump your little chest. But know this – You. Will. Lose.

I don’t postulate this as speculation. I don’t express it as hope. I don’t mention it in careless passing. I declare it as an inviolable fact. Sure, you might have this day in the sun. Perhaps you will even break down a couple of mosques or churches, like you did in Ayodhya in 1992 or Orissa in 2008, maybe even conduct a few pogroms whereupon you will kill some members of various minority communities, like you did in Mumbai in 1992 or Gujarat in 2002. There will be some bloodshed and you might run riot for a little while, maybe even puff your cowardly chests out in murderous pride. But India is different you scum. It is a fact that doesn’t seem to have penetrated that densely virulent mindset of yours. Let me see if I can break it down for you. Don’t worry, I’ll try and use small words so your miniscule brain can comprehend it. I’ll be brief so that those words at least stand a fighting chance of hitting home before getting sucked in by that black hole of turpitude in your beings. Indeed, I promise to say my piece before it’s lost to the vacuum in your pathetic forms that formerly held your souls.

You see, fascists like you are no different than your counterparts in other religions and nationalities. (It’s funny, you all hate each other, but yet you all seem to have been hell-spawned out of the same venomous goo – really you guys should consider getting your own planet and leaving the rest of us alone – but I digress). You don’t seem to understand that humanity is just far too diverse and beautifully chaotic to allow such virulent homogenizing. India is no different. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that India is the ultimate representation of that diversity and awe-inspiring chaos. That’s what you don’t seem to have internalized, you malicious marauders.

Please note that I don’t believe Indian society has some inherent progressiveness and inclination for secular tolerance, no more than I believe any other society does. What I’m saying is that Indian society doesn’t have a choice in the matter despite the baser elements within it.

What do you think would happen, you perfidious puddles of piss, if you took that smear of dung you call an ideology to the various linguistic, regional, and cultural identities across the country? Seriously, do you actually believe that you can homogenize India? The very concept of a national identity is tenuous at best, and you think you can bring in your Hindutva crap into the picture? Let me paint a panoramic picture for you. There are, at last count, 22 official state-level languages in India, each spoken by millions upon millions of people, not to mention hundreds of other languages and dialects, grouped under four distinct linguistic families. Every religion and belief-system on earth is represented in India, many in huge numbers, not to mention the innumerable aspirations of caste, creed, and community (there are approximately two thousand ethnic groups in the country, you might be interested to know). I’m curious, what are the logistics of your program in such a land? How might you, for example, kill 210 million Muslims (or, as you are wont to scream, drive them away to Pakistan), or kick out 35 million Christians, or convert 130 million Adivasis, or suppress 230 million Dalits, or reconvert 25 million Buddhists, or homogenize 500 million OBCs? What about the millions of atheists, agnostics, rationalists, humanists, and ardent leftists who will resist you tooth and nail? What’s your plan for them? You might even cite Hitler’s program – I know many of you would love to lick his boots in reverent supplication of his virulence – but you also seem to forget that Germany is not India, Germany is 1/100th, nay, 1/1000th of what India is in terms of sheer diversity. What happened in Germany will never happen in India, you bilious bottom-feeders. Even the fucking capitalists in India wouldn’t want anything to do with you if it hurts investment, which it ultimately will. Hell, the capitalists in Gujarat, Hindu nationalist though many of them may have been, baulked at your murderous program in 2002 the moment there was capital flight, their greed sufficiently trumping any latent desire for fascism.

So, enjoy this brief moment in the sun, you piece-of-trash-waiting-to-ultimately-reside-in-the-garbage-dump-of-history; because the subcontinent is laughing silently at your pernicious castle in the air. Like the Islamic fascists, the malevolent mullahs, the violent nationalists, and the evil ethnocentrists in other parts of the subcontinent, she knows that she will see you ultimately fall in an ignominious heap of humiliation.

So, good luck in your cesspool. Live it up on the wrong side of history. You will crumble into dust and be seen for the vile poison that you are sooner or later.