Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Counterproductive Life

Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was of the opinion that most of us lived a life of counterproductivity.  That is, we defeat ourselves. 

Happiness is one of the most sought after goals in life.  We do a lot of things in order to achieve happiness.  We take up a profession assuming that the job and the salary will bring us happiness.  But soon we find ourselves competing with somebody or the other in order to achieve a higher position in the workplace because we assume that the position is the key to our happiness.  Then we need a house that suits the professional position.  We need a car, the best possible.  Our children should study in the best school in the city.  The fulfilment of every desire leads to more desires.  Desire is unhappiness.  The fulfilment of one desire brings in more desires.  More unhappiness, in other words.  Counterproductive life, Illich called it.  The Buddha had said much the same thing in slightly different words long ago.

The secret to happiness is obviously cutting down our desires.  Learning to live with as less as possible is the prominent key to happiness.  When the whole world is rushing at a breakneck speed towards more and more illusions driven by desires, it may be difficult to stand aside and learn to be content with less and less.  Yet that standing aside is the real key to happiness.

Illich illustrates it with an example.  You buy a car assuming that you are going to gain a lot of time by being able to travel faster at your own convenience.  The truth is that you spend a lot of time getting your car fuelled, waiting at traffic signals and traffic jams, keeping your vehicle in good condition, recuperating in a hospital after a crash, and so on.  Illich made a calculation and found out that the “real speed” of a car in America of 1970s was 3.7 miles per hour.  But people lived under the illusion that they were getting on much faster on the highway to happiness. 

Illusions.  They drive most of our lives.  When we finally learn that most of the things we did or acquired made little qualitative difference in our lives, we are too old to do anything about it. 

When I think of the current craze in India to bring about a religious rashtra, I am reminded of Illich’s counterproductivity theory.  Let us assume that we do succeed in bringing about that dream-rashtra.  Is it going to be a utopia?  Has any nation ever been happier for being theocratic or homogeneous in any way?  The most bizarre truth is that the present desh bhakts are doing exactly what they condemned in the theocratic nations earlier!

Once we achieve the dream-rashtra, we will soon find ourselves disillusioned.  We will start dividing ourselves into many other groups: linguistic, for example.  Such divisions are inevitable as long as people are driven by desires to be one up on the other.  Today we want to be one up on Muslims or Christians or whatever.  Tomorrow we will want to be one up on Tamils or Mizos or whatever.  

It is better to start reading history with a genuine desire to know what revolutions achieved so far.  Nothing except meaningless and heartless sacrifices of human lives.  No revolution has made the world a better place.  It is better to usher in the revolution in the heart.  As Ivan Illich said, “Carry a candle in the dark, be a candle in the dark, know that you’re a flame in the dark.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Romeo and anti-Romeo

Juliet knew it was Romeo.  Who else would enter the balcony of her bedroom on the first floor at this time of the night?  Moreover, there was love in that rap on the window.  It was like the resonance of the guitar string when pulled by a master player.  Her heart throbbed like guitar strings as she went to open the window.

“Romeo, my love!” Juliet cried.  “How did you manage to come here?  There are anti-Romeo squads everywhere.”

“I defy the stars for your sake, Juliet. I defy the squads for my love.”

“Why is our fate thus, Romeo?  Why are they all against our love?  Even your father and my father, they’re like Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.”

“Oh no, darling! Don’t insult your father by comparing him to Rahul.  It’s more apt to compare them to Modi and Advani.  Anyway, let’s leave politics aside; it’s so unromantic.”

Juliet opened the balcony door and they sat down together listening to the romance of the Ganga’s music as it flowed down a few yards away to join the holy confluence of Prayag.  Prayagasya Praveshshu Papam Nashwati Tatkshanam. Prayag washes away all your sins. 

“Why is love a sin?” Juliet woke up from her thoughts.  She was sitting with her head leaned against Romeo’s shoulder.

Romeo kissed her hair that smelled of shampoo.  “What is sin but the breaking of some rule made by man?”

When some powerful person wants to exert his power over more and more people he makes some rules.  Obedience to the rules you make is the greatest sign of your power.  The more rules you make and the more people you get to obey them, the more power you have.

“But why does anyone want so much power?” Juliet wondered.

“Poverty of the heart, darling,” explained Romeo.  “Love and power are mutual antitheses.  Love gives and shares and cares.  Power grabs, commands and subjugates.  Those who have no heart for loving have to fill the void within by grabbing.”

Their discussion was ruptured by the noise that rose from the road a few yards away.  There were cries and shouts.  Anger and agony.  Somebody’s anger; somebody else’s agony.  Maybe some anti-Romeo squad beating up some youngsters in love.  Maybe gau rakshaks thrashing some cow transporters. 

The Ganga flowed on.  Its rhythm didn’t change.  How much sin can it wash away so nonchalantly?

Juliet tightened her grip on Romeo.  Her face was buried in his chest.  He drew her closer to him.  Closer.  They merged into each other like the Ganga and the Yamuna did at Prayag.  Their love longed to wash away the hatred that roamed the streets assuming various political avatars.  

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 166: #AntiRomeoSquads

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Gau Rakshak


Love Kumar had no clear idea of what he was going to do with his life as he stepped out of the jail having completed the term for the rape he had committed seven years ago.  He had met all sorts of people in the jail, like politicians and godmen.  Until he met them in jail serving terms for crimes ranging from rape to murder, Love Kumar had thought that crime was the prerogative of the undeserving poor like himself.

He had not wanted to commit the crime.  Life made him do it.  That’s how he saw it at least.  Life makes the undeserving poor do all sorts of things in order to get on in the world ruled by the deserving affluent.  Politicians, for example.  People give them the right to swindle.  His own MLA had a huge body of thugs and goons who would do anything for their leader.  That is in addition to the official security provided to the politician by the State.  And the people voted him again and again to power.

Love Kumar used to stand in awe when such political leaders passed by escorted by a retinue of body guards, official as well as unofficial.  It was a similar awe that overwhelmed him when he saw Lalita.  He was working at a construction site.  Lalita was another worker.  She was young and exceptionally pretty.  Such prettiness does not belong to the working class.  So when Love Kumar felt drawn to Lalita it was in fact the undeserving poor’s aspiration to reach beyond his class.  That is how life is.  It makes you want to move out of your class to the next one in the social hierarchy.

Love Kumar ogled Laita whenever she passed by with the bricks on her head.  Once he saw her putting down the bricks and rushing somewhere.  Curiosity made him follow her.  There was a child, a year or so old, sitting in the shade of a tree.  There was a cloth chain binding him by the waist to the tree.  Lalita picked him up, sat down under the tree, unbuttoned her shirt and popped one of her breasts into the child’s mouth. 

“He is constructing this building,” Lalita said later when Love Kumar managed to speak to her.  “It is his hunger that is constructing this building.”  She patted the child on its back.

Love Kumar was consumed by a hunger.  The sight of Lalita’s breast had whetted that hunger beyond control. 

The Court could not understand that hunger.  It sentenced Love Kumar to a seven year-term.  The deserving rich don’t understand the hungers of the undeserving poor, Love Kumar knew.

Encountering politicians and godmen in the jail was an unexpected experience, however.  It made Love Kumar think that the line between the undeserving poor like himself and the deserving rich like the politicians and godmen is a very thin one.

There was this man in jail whom everyone addressed as Guruji.  They said he was a godman.  One day he raped one of his devotees, a young woman who had sought his blessings in order to help her overcome her problems.  Guruji asked her to meet him alone.  He made her drink something and she was dazed.  When she woke up from her spiritual daze she realised with horror that the Guruji had added one more problem for her: she was pregnant with his child.

Love Kumar had not deceived Lalita, however.  He told her that he felt ineluctably drawn to her.  Just once, that’s all I’m begging from you, he pleaded with her.  She told him point-blank, Bhaad mein jao. He couldn’t take that from another undeserving poor.  So he gave it to her.  She deserved that.

Guruji and Netaji all have their special places even in jail.  They deserve that.  They belong to a different class, Love Kumar knew.  He longed to reach that class as he walked on having got his freedom from the prison.

It was then he saw a group of young men stopping a truck carrying cows.  Love Kumar stood to watch.  He had heard from Netaji in jail that gau raksha was the latest fad in the country.

The young men dragged out the people in the truck’s cabin and beat them to death.  Hiding behind a tree, Love Kumar watched as the gau rakshaks divided the cows among themselves.

Enlightenment descended on Love Kumar.  He knew he could change his fortune easily now.  He decided to become a gau rakshak.