Friday, August 14, 2020

Independence


India has ascetics who can pull a car with their penises. India also has software engineers whose brains are put to good use by the world’s finest IT firms. There was a time when India built hospitals and universities. Now India builds statues and temples. Slogans had meanings in India until recently when they began to be exasperating echoes of pious wishes.

The independence of a nation is nothing more than the independence of its citizens. No nation can be said to be independent if even a fraction of its citizens are facing starvation, injustice, discrimination, and other such evils. No nation can be said to be free if its citizens are labouring under illusions and delusions, superstitions and ignorance, bigotry and sectarianism.

Is India really independent today, more than seven decades after our first Prime Minister hoisted the national flag proudly proclaiming to the world our historic tryst with destiny? True, even the first Independence Day wasn’t all that glorious. The father of the nation did not join the celebrations on that day because he was in the bloody streets of “the most violent city” (Calcutta, in the words of the authors of Freedom at Midnight) pacifying the spectres of religious hatred.


Those same spectres have been revived today by the successors of Gandhi’s assassins. Hatred is the largest enslaving spectre of today’s India. It walks about wearing the sanctimonious robes of nationalism and has the full blessings of the political leaders.

The leaders of any nation are a reflection of the people, Gandhi said. If we go by the standards displayed so far by our political leaders of today, India is a doomed nation. These are leaders whose souls belong to the dark alleys of the medieval period. They think like invaders and conquistadors though they speak like saints and visionaries. They establish IT cells manned by intelligent brains but end up making those people pull cars with their penises. They dish out falsehood day in and day out on various social media. They permeate the nation’s air with the poison of sectarian hatred.

Today’s leaders know how to get what they want by hook or by crook. Elected governments are toppled with the power of money. Educational and cultural institutions are converted into propaganda machineries. Dissenters are made to disappear from public places. Fair is foul and foul is fair. People have already been brainwashed into intellectual blindness. The Pavamana Mantras (Asato ma etc) have been inverted subliminally. We move from light to darkness.

India stands enslaved to falsehood and chicanery more than ever since its liberation from the British. The worst is the tendency of most Indians to keep looking back and blaming anyone from Nehru to Babur for all the ills that plague the nation today. The irony is that Narendra Modi has been in power for more duration than any other non-Congress Prime Minister so far in the country and yet he keeps blaming the past for the country’s woes. Worse, the country has degraded the most during the last six years due to the myopic policies implemented by Modi such as demonetisation, GST, and privatisation. The worst contribution, of course, is the dragon of communal hatred that keeps growing larger and keeps stirring relentlessly, spitting fire all the while.


India can be saved yet. It should liberate itself from its own leaders. A Panchayat in Kerala, Kizhakkambalam, has done this successfully. It said No to politicians and elected leaders on the basis of the services they do for the people. The Panchayat has made tremendous progress ever since. People’s welfare is not a difficult task at all. If that appears difficult, it just means that you don’t have the right kind of leaders. This is India’s curse today. It has criminals wearing holy robes and occupying high positions of power.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Beyond Covid

 


My early morning visitor today
My early morning visitor today

Half a year is a pretty long period in the autumn of one’s life. Covid has consumed as much as that at a time when I was contemplating certain substantial changes in my lifestyle. I wanted to do some travelling first of all, some long-distance drives on weekends along with Maggie. That was meant to be my way of making the imminent retirement a smooth transition from the classroom to the cosmos. Ironically, my cosmos shrank to my table with a laptop and the current book. Ironies are inescapable companions throughout life.

Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge kept me blissfully engaged in April and the exercise ended in the creation of a book about books: Great Books for Great Thoughts. This volume is available absolutely free; just a click on the given link is all that it costs you.

Online classes have provided me the only meaningful contact with the world from May onwards. The alarming spread of the pandemic prompted me to look at the meaning of suffering and the result was a short book: Coping with Suffering. After reading that book, one of my fellow bloggers wondered whether the pandemic had brought about a religious conversion in me. The book looks at suffering from the points of view of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism before doing the same from more literary and secular angles. For once I found myself dealing with religions with considerable benignity which made my friend wonder about my possible conversion.

June and July found me experimenting with Google docs and forms so that I could make some effective changes to my online classes. One of my former colleagues in Delhi assisted me generously by sending me a lot of information about sites that can be of immense help to online teachers. The latest such message from her landed in my phone yesterday: Open digital educational tools for interactive online teaching and learning. I have not been able to employ much of this in the actual classroom yet. Technology has its limits too.

What amuses me most is the increased interaction between my students and me when we don’t meet each other at all. Many of them call me and more of them use messaging systems to be in personal touch. A few of them have become part of the family, so to say, with Maggie too joining in the lively conversations that have little to do with classes. The profession has certain joys that have nothing much to do with the profession!

Life goes on in spite of Covid. But the alarming rate of the increase in affected cases day after day takes away much of the joy. Maybe, Covid is here to stay with us for a while and we have to learn to live with it.


PS. I collected 30 of my short stories too during this period and the anthology, Love in the Time of Corona, is available as an e-book. 

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Why I Write

 

One of the most delightful essays of George Orwell is ‘Why I Write’ which I read as a young student of a creative writing course of IGNOU. With ruthless candidness Orwell identifies “sheer egoism” as the first reason for his writing. “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc…” Orwell goes on to say that “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.”

I embrace Orwell wholeheartedly here. I am an inveterate egoist in the above Orwellian sense, every bit of it including those grown-ups, and that egoism probably remains at the top of my list too if you hurl on my face the question why I write. But that can’t be the sole reason for any worthwhile writer. Orwell has listed a few more of them in his essay and I won’t ever dare to dispute any of them.

Political purpose is mentioned as the last point by Orwell. He defines it as “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” My writing has been driven by this political purpose ever since Mr Modi ascended the throne in Indraprastha. It is because I don’t accept the kind of politics that Mr Modi practises. Mr Modi made me a political writer.

Even otherwise there was a didactic element in my writings, I don’t deny. Bernard Shaw is one writer who defended his didacticism fanatically. I don’t write anything unless it is to teach something, he declared. [I can’t recall his exact words.] I can say the same about my writing too.

I don’t claim to be wise, however. If I write like a teacher, it is not because I think I know more than anyone else. It is rather because I feel I have a right to express my views in a world of people who are capable of thinking. Moreover, I am a teacher by profession. I know that I have influenced (and continue to do so) quite many young minds as a teacher. I would like to do the same with adults as a writer. Forgive me if this ambition sounds vain or presumptuous.

I have been told too many times by friends and well-wishers that my writing tends to be too acerbic to do good. The acid is not intended. Not usually, at least. Writing is not an entirely conscious process. The roots of your words lie in your subconscious mind. The acid belongs there too. I must borrow from Shaw once again here: “I do not know what I think until I write it.”

Frankly, I don’t write with the conscious intention to hurt anyone, not even Mr Modi whom I consider as one of the most inferior minds that ever sat on the country’s prime throne. Modi is the antithesis of all that I value: the Enlightenment ideals. When the most powerful person in your country turns out to be the exterminator of all that you hold sacred, your heart will be on fire. Acid will flow in your veins.

I write in order to cling to those ideals which are being exterminated. I write primarily to salvage my own heart.

 

PS. Thanks to Sonia Dogra [one of the gentlest souls I ever came to know in the virtual world] who tagged me in Facebook to a post by another blogger friend, Deepa Gopal, [a genius with the brush and the pen] which in turn made me write this.  

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ayodhya’s Triumphalist Majoritarianism

 

Every people love to belong to the winning side. Victory has more intoxications than religion. In fact, religion has been used more for achieving earthly conquests than for attaining spiritual bliss. In Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir, PM Modi is offering the nation (all the 130 crore people, in his own words) both intoxications: earthly and heavenly. How?

Earthly Conquest

The Ram Mandir is a symbol of the majority community’s triumph over the minorities and secularists and liberals – all the antinationals, in the new lingo. See, we have the power to bring down your god and his mosque – however historical the mosque may be – and put our own god there in a splendid temple and that too when the country is struggling with a pandemic and concomitant numerous other crises. That is the message from Ayodhya now. This country is not yours anymore; it is unarguably ours, one particular community’s. We are the victors and you are the vanquished.

No one wants to be on the side of the vanquished. So most people are happy to join the side of the victors. These people happily justify the construction of the temple at a time when:

·        unemployment rate is the highest in the country’s history

·        poverty and starvation stare bleakly from rising number of huts and slums

·        crude oil prices mock us from across the borders

·        even the maps metamorphose at those same borders

·        the impacts of poorly implemented schemes such as GST and demonetisation are still poking our soles like spikes on the way

·        crimes are mounting in various shapes: lynching, bank frauds (more than 23,000 cases since 2014), assaults

·        students, protestors and activists are arrested as traitors

·        thousands of crores are spent on advertisements meant to sell us post-truths

·        farmers are committing suicide or contemplating suicide in ever larger numbers

These are small inconveniences on the way to historical victory. Small prices for big gains. Our god has won. We have saved the national pride in the process. We can now boast to the infinite spaces that we have corrected a historical wrong. We have recaptured lost territories.

From whom?

Don’t ask that. If we have to answer that, our victory will burst will like a gossamer balloon we hoisted in the air. How can we admit that our enemies were the poor and downtrodden people who eked out a meagre living in their slums and hutments? How can we admit that we were lynching helpless people who did not even possess the strength to raise a finger in protest? How can we accept ourselves as mere hooligans who obeyed the diktats of our semi-literate leaders who shouted in moments of passion to “shoot the traitors”?

We can’t do any of that, obviously.

Spiritual conquest

So let us claim that we have reclaimed our god and his temple from the marauders of centuries ago? We are correcting the wrongs of history. We are saving none less than our god from the mleccha people and their debris of history. We are the greatest warriors on earth, warriors who fought for their god and none less. We will reap our heavenly rewards. All these earthly sorrows and pains you bear in the process will be nothing in comparison with your spiritual contribution to history.

Rehabilitating god at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was the very purpose of PM Modi’s incarnation. राम काजु कीन्हे बिनु मोहि कहाँ बिश्राम॥ as Modi said in his speech after laying the foundation stone of the Mandir. It was a divinely assigned task. Just like the ones with which Ram was born, Krishna was born, and all those gods were born.

“Today, the Ram Janmabhoomi has become free from the centuries-old chain of destruction and resurrection,” Modi declared rhetorically and asked the people to join him in hailing the god that was liberated from the chain of destruction and resurrection. We are the liberators of god. What more spiritual bliss do you wish for?

Our motherland is superior to the heaven of gods, Modi declared in that speech. What more do you want, dear countryman?

Conclusion

The Ram Mandir coming up in Ayodhya is going to be a landmark in the history of India. It is the end of India as a secular nation. Those who don’t believe in Ram – “the most virtuous ruler in the entire world” in Modi’s words – and those who don’t accept the liberator of that god as the country’s only leader will sink in the riled waters of the country’s history. Lord Rama has only just begun to fill his quiver with arrows.


xZx

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Innocence



One of my friends in the village narrated an interesting anecdote. He heard a villager pray to his god one day for a strong wind in the night so that one of the trees in his neighbour’s farm would fall. “That would give me firewood for a month,” the villager explained when questioned.

His neighbour is a very kind man who lets him take firewood whenever dry branches of trees fall in the farm. “But why don’t you ask your god to solve your problem without wishing harm for your kind neighbour?” My friend questioned the villager who knew the neighbour too.

The villager said, “That’s true. I never thought of that.”

The villager was quite innocent. He really didn’t mean harm to his neighbour whom he held in high regard. But his firewood was running out and winds were quite common in the area and the winds brought down branches of trees frequently. It was only fair to ask god to send a wind in the nearest farm. It would be easier to carry the firewood home from the nearest farm. He wasn’t wishing any evil for anyone.

“Maybe the guy is not so innocent,” I suggested when my friend related this to me. “Maybe he knew his god was not magnanimous enough to perform some outlandish miracle.” A wind is not much of a miracle here.

My friend who is familiar with my cynicism even about gods laughed. “Of course, it is more sensible to pray for what can really happen. After all, winds are regular phenomena here. But the guy who prayed is really innocent. Innocence is limited imagination.”

“True,” I said. “Children are innocent precisely because their imagination is limited to the here and now. They don’t worry about the future, about what others think, or even about their own impishness.”

He liked that last part. “Let me absorb that,” he said. “The loss of the delusion that you like yourself is the real end of innocence, right?”

I couldn’t have put it better. I raised a toast to my friend’s wisdom. “I lost my innocence as a little child,” I said as I raised the glass merrily to my lips.

“Hmm,” he made a grimace. “And you lost your virginity in the library. Cheers.”





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

History’s Gargoyle in Ayodhya

Ayodhya Temple, national pride?


In a few hours from now Prime Minister Modi will lay a 40 kg silver brick in Ayodhya to mark the beginning of the construction of a humungous temple. India is grappling with a deadly pandemic like most countries in the world. India is the fifth worst affected country and given the country’s enormous population any sane leader would think of spending revenue on providing better medical facilities. But Modi knows how to earn his place in recorded history: architecture. He spent an incredibly large sum on a statue that stands 600 feet tall on lands that belonged to 185 families. Mr Modi seems to think that the statue will give a stiff competition to the Taj Mahal.

If not the statue, this temple in Ayodhya should give that competition. There’s more in the offing too: Central Vista in Delhi. Mr Modi can surely hope to get his name imprinted in history as THE ARCHITECT of endemic India in pandemic times.

The Ayodhya temple has much emotive potential and Mr Modi wants to make political capital on that. It is a symbol of history’s revenge on the Mughals and their descendants who dominated the country’s ethos for very long. Call it cultural vengeance, if you wish. Modi emerges as the colossal, historical defender and guardian of Hindu religion and culture. He hopes that history will put him at least on a par with, if not above, Akbar and Shah Jahan. Mediocre souls do not possess the imagination to be different from their enemies!

A great mind existing in 21st century would have thought of replacing gods and temples with whatever could enhance the quality of the life of the people under one’s charge. The primary duty of any elected political leader is to ensure the welfare of the people who elected him. Millions of those people who elected Modi walked hundreds of kilometres when the pandemic broke out and Modi declared lockdown. The people lost their jobs. They starved. They had to vacate their residences. They walked to their villages where starvation awaited them. What did Modi do? Promised them a historical temple, Pie in the Sky.

The people are to be blamed too. They supported Modi’s bigotry for enjoying vicarious pleasures of historical conquests. They imagined themselves to be conquerors when they lynched hapless victims on streets and byways and Modi pretended not to see. Now they gloat over the glorious temple to come up in the place of the mosque they had brought down. They know the temple is going to give them the satisfaction of a few historical belches.

Belches of satiated egos make up most human history. The Ayodhya temple will be another of Modi’s historical belches. For the future generations, it will appear as a gargoyle built on the edifice of human civilisation. Thank our stars, we still have medical professionals who are ready to take risks for the sake of our real civilisation.

PS. My 2 earlier posts on Ayodhya:     Ayodhya Politics – 1 [old history]
                                                               Ayodhya Politics – 2 [later history]

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where do old birds go to die?

Krishna Hari is a class 12 student. She writes stunning poems which carry evocative images and provoking metaphors. As her English teacher, I am proud to feature one of her poems in this space. 

Krishna Hari
Krishna Hari


The old birds in my yard⠀
Fly away to distant lands⠀
For deceptive summer eves have come⠀
Yet again with their wild rains⠀
And malicious clouds.⠀
I sit on my balcony cross-legged⠀
Sipping warm whiskey⠀
Watching the sunset paint ⠀
The northern skies sepia.⠀
I hear the rustling leaves of the devil's trees⠀
Within the premises of that old temple by the lake⠀
Where women used to worship serpents and fairies once⠀
Collapsed into a rubble of stones with time.⠀
Eerie questions suck on the abysses
Under my skin like leeches⠀
And I feel as if I'm⠀
On the edge of an apocalypse.⠀
I ask, "Who makes leaves fall in autumn"?⠀
"Why were thorny roses prettier than tranquil jasmines"?⠀
"Where do old birds go to die ?⠀
Do they ever cry for their wrinkled destinies ?⠀
Do their tears fall off from their homes in the highs of heavenly trees ?⠀
Do their nestlings weep at their demises?"⠀
I heave a deep sigh into the cold air⠀
Close my eyes and see old birds going to die.⠀
And I tell myself⠀
'Maybe I'll mourn their death at my own grave.'

Independence

India has ascetics who can pull a car with their penises. India also has software engineers whose brains are put to good use by the world’...