Saturday, December 29, 2012

Educate not to Rape



So many experts have spoken so much about the most controversial rape in India.  I read quite much.  I viewed equally much on the television.

My heart weeps for the woman whose dreams have been buried even before she started seeing them clearly.

But why did it all have to be this way?

I’m a teacher and I’d place the blame squarely on two entities: the parents and the schools.

The parents want their children to outshine everyone else.  Compete.  Defeat.  That’s the mantra given by parents to their children.  Life is about competing with other students and defeating them.  If not in academic results, at least in sports, games, acting, singing, dancing… somewhere.  If not in any of those, defeat physically.  Win somehow, anyhow.  Use hook or crook or hit below the belt.

The schools too want to publicise their performance.  On Honour Boards.  Performance matters.  And only performance matters.  Values and principles are no concern of anyone.  The teacher will be questioned if the academic result is not good.  Who cares about values and principles?

And the student goes out.  Into the society.  There he/she sees doctors asking him/her to go for umpteen check-ups which are not really needed – after paying a hefty registration fee and other charges extorted.
He/she goes to a lawyer to get it straight.  The lawyer is soon bought by the medical company, the doctor, the hospital, the corporation, the politician who is ever ready to pander to anyone’s whims and fancy provided there’s money in it, the expert who is not different from the politician in any way, the religion of the doctor to which he gives voluntary service once a week...

He/she goes to religion.  Money is all what that wants too.  Donations.  Or voluntary service.  Which religion has ever given (in contradistinction with receive in the form of donations, offerings, charity...) something to somebody meaningfully?  I’m ready to become religious if anyone can show me such a religion.

Money is all that matters. Money buys commodities.  Or it rapes them!

Can we, parents and the school, give to students values other than money?  Other than conquests?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Women and Mr Mukherjee




A friend mailed a copy of a report about how an American court of justice endorsed the firing of a female assistant simply because her feminine charms were perceived as a threat to the family life of her male boss.

The court didn’t see the firing as an instance of gender discrimination but as motivated by “feelings and emotions.”  The boss and his wife thought that the female assistant’s attractiveness was a threat to their family life as their feelings and emotions were swayed by the employee’s physical attractiveness.

This is funny indeed.  If we go by this logic, it would be quite impossible for women to be attractive and hold on to their jobs at the same time.  

Extend the logic a little further.  Can a boss fire any employee (of any gender) for disturbing his/her “feelings and emotions”?  Can a boss fire an employee on account of jealousy, for instance?

The seven judges who passed the above judgment were all male.  Their argument is not any different from that of certain people in India who argue that the dress worn by women can be a cause of male aggression on women and hence women should attire themselves modestly.  Don’t men have any responsibility for controlling their feelings and emotions?

The latest controversy about Mr Abhijit Mukherjee’s “sexist comment” highlights this very attitude.  What really matters about Mr Mukherjee’s remark is not just labelling the women as “dented and painted,” but more about the holier-than-thou attitude as well as male chauvinism. 

It may be true that many of the women who are raising their voice in the public places of Delhi in connection with the brutality perpetrated on a young woman may not be students, may not be following the traditional moral codes, and some may even be libertines. 

The fact which may not be very pleasant for the traditional moralist is that women have the freedom to discard the moral codes prescribed by a patriarchal system.  To use Mr Mukherjee’s own phrase, women have the liberty to be “dented and painted” if they choose to be so. 

But the dents and paints are not an invitation for anyone to impose himself on them.  They need not restrain women from demanding security for themselves in their society.  After all, if they are indeed dented, some men are responsible for that!

Mr Mukherjee’s remark about women going to discotheques is the typical example of the conservative patriarchal morality.  And it also reveals the kind of thinking that the US judges exercised.  If men feel tempted by women (because of their dress or their going to discotheques or whatever), women are culpable!

I’m not defending frivolous behaviour from women.  I’m merely stating my view that women have the right to live their life just as much as men have to live theirs. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I too

A stupid  post - I mean, personal post. 

I too want to live yaar.

You come claiming to be an expert
and hammer another nail in my coffin

and you go to send me an email to say that
we will talk in the network

I don't believe in networks
any more than in religions.

Didn't networks ruin me enough?

I want to live my life.

Give me a life.

Can you, expert?

Can you, my manager?

Can you, my RETIRING principal?

No, I don't want any help.
Just leave me alone.
I will make my life.

Leave me alone, can you?
Alone from your extorting religion?
From your EXPERTISE?

From your own greed?
Which you think is religion?



Note: This is a purely personal post.  Wicked post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies



One of the many ballads that were made in the pubs of England during Henry VIII’s reign named the King Littleprick, according to Hilary Mantel’s latest [2012] Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Bring Up the Bodies.  There are many places in the novel where Henry’s sexual potency or the size of his genital organ is called into question.  In a way, the novel is about the King’s lack of “skill” and “vigour” in copulation.  Is it some psychological complex about his sexual skills or the size of his penis that drove Henry to marry six times?  Well, Anne Boleyn was his second wife, and the present novel tells the story of the King’s and many other men’s affairs with her.  Maybe, in the next volume of the series, Mantel will explore this theme further.  Maybe not.  Mantel’s real interests lie in Thomas Cromwell who is the indirect narrator of both the first two volumes and promises to continue that job in the next one too. 

Wolf Hall, the first volume in the series, ends with Henry marrying Anne Boleyn.  Cromwell is left with an axe to grind because Anne’s royal ambition drove his patron, Cardinal Wolsey, to the grave.  Cromwell, being an astute manipulator, soon got into the good books of the King.  Right at the beginning of the novel we are told that even Cromwell thinks of himself as looking like a murderer.  The novel will end about 400 pages later with Cromwell leading five men and the Queen herself to their gory death.  And four of the five men were complicit in the death of Cardinal Wolsey.

Was Cromwell avenging the cardinal’s death?  In the “Author’s Note” at the end of the novel, Mantel tells us that the “book is of course not about Anne Boleyn or about Henry VIII, but about the career of Thomas Cromwell, who is still in need of attention from biographers.”  Mantel has done justice to her exploration of Cromwell’s character: he comes across as a man with a marmoreal demeanour and equally cold heart, more Machiavellian than Machiavelli’s Prince, focused on his goals with the determination of the Devil himself.  At the end of it all, he still remains a mystery.

Bring Up the Bodies is the story of how Anne Boleyn is brought to her tragic end by her tragic flaw of sensualness.  Anne loves to have variety in her sexual encounters and experiences.  One of her lovers, Weston, tells of her, imitating none other than Henry himself, “Has she not the wettest cunt you ever groped?”  In one of the last pages of the novel, Cromwell wonders whether Anne “was a book left open on a desk for anyone to write on the pages, where only her husband should inscribe.”

Anne’s character is not as simple as that, however.  She is also an expert schemer.  Mantel succeeds eminently in portraying the complexity of Anne’s character.

Anne and Cromwell together bring us a peculiar experience, a churning experience of two very different types of perversions, thanks to Mantel’s dexterous art and craft. 

The title, Bring Up the Bodies, refers to Henry’s order to “deliver the accused” for the trial.  All of them end up as mere bodies soon after the trial, bodies without life.  Ten days after Anne’s execution, Henry marries Jane Seymour, the woman who was his third wife.  Wolf Hall had ended with Henry’s marriage with Anne.  There are many more marriages to come.  And more executions too, including Cromwell’s.  I look forward to the next volume in the series. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Christmas




The Buddha, Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi are three persons whom I found myself admiring as I grew older though not proportionately wiser.  I don’t share their great qualities, feeble as I am.  In fact, I may find myself towards the middle of the spectrum if we construct such a continuum of human qualities and personality traits as the one envisaged by philosopher Spinoza.  Is what another philosopher, Nietzsche, said of himself true for me too: “What I am not, that for me is God and virtue” [in Thus Spoke Zarathustra]?

If I apply Spinoza’s classification, these three luminaries whom I have grown to admire belong to the category of people who regarded love as the primary virtue, considered all people to be equally precious, and resisted evil by returning good.  Spinoza argued that people like Jesus and Buddha constructed an ethical system that stressed feminine virtues.  At the other end of that spectrum are people like Machiavelli and Nietzsche [and most administrators I’ve been fated to live with] who stressed masculine virtues, acknowledged the essential inequalities of human beings, relished the risks of conquest and rule, and identified virtue with power.  Towards the middle of that spectrum lie people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle [oh, so antique!] who identified virtue with intelligence.  An informed and rational mind can make better decisions than one guided by love or power, says Spinoza – and I agree.
 
As the world gets ready to celebrate the birth anniversary of Jesus (Christmas), I found myself overcome by an urge to explore why I admire Jesus in spite of his emphasis on love and compassion, virtues that I can’t claim to possess.   I know well that I don’t deify what I am not, a la Nietzsche.
 
The first thing I like about Jesus is that he questioned the very fundamentals of his religion, Judaism.  Jesus was crucified by the Jewish priests.  The priests did not like Jesus’ questioning of their religion and the way it was being practised.  He drove out the commercial entrepreneurs out of the synagogue [John 2:15].  He accused the religious teachers of being hypocrites [Mathew 23: 1-15].
 
Jesus argued that merely following religious rituals or laws would not guarantee anyone salvation.  “Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” said Jesus [Mathew 7:21].  Jesus wanted people to live a life based on certain fundamental values and principles, especially love, and not merely follow rules and observe rituals.

The Sabbath was not as holy for Jesus as for his religious leaders.  It is better to do good to other people on Sabbath than merely observe it as a ritualistic holiday, said Jesus [Mathew 12:12, Mark: 3:4].

What Jesus wanted people to do was to have purity of heart, rather than follow rituals.  Good actions will ensue automatically.  It is the inner goodness and the good deeds which follow automatically that really mattered to Jesus.  He did not value the man who claimed to be “not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers...” but claimed to “fast twice a week, give tithes of all that I get.” Jesus argued that the man who admitted his weaknesses in all humility and sought to keep his heart pure was the real religious person [Luke 18: 11-14].

Women who committed adultery were to be stoned to death, according to the Jewish law.  When such a woman was brought to Jesus, he said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” [John 8: 7].  Jesus accepted the fallibility of human beings.  What he asked people was to rise after each fall, learning the lesson from it, and to become a better human being.

The prodigal son’s homecoming is a far greater occasion for celebration than the dutiful son’s regular goodness [Luke 15: 11-32].  Bringing the lost sheep back to the fold was more important than tending the regular flock [Mathew 18: 12-14, Luke 15: 3-7]. 

Restoring goodness to each individual – that was what Jesus wanted.

Religion was not his concern.  Rituals were not at all his concern.  Mere recitation of prayers meant little to him. 

In fact, he did not even found a religion.  The Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, says, “he (Jesus) did not seek to found a separate community distinct from Israel with its own creed and cult, or to call to life an organization with its own constitution and offices, let alone a great religious edifice.  No, according to all the evidence, Jesus did not found a church in his lifetime.” [The Catholic Church, Phoenix Press, 2002, page 11]

I admire Jesus, the man, the visionary, the philosopher.  His message is still relevant, as far as I am concerned.  His churches, however, don’t remind me of his message.  So I shall celebrate Christmas in my own private way.

Wish you a Meaningful Christmas.

[Note: All the Biblical quotes are taken from the Revised Standard Version.]

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Delhi Rapes




I’m getting increasingly convinced that Delhi can only rape. 

Ms Sheila Dikshit can shed crocodile tears on the umpteen TV channels to which she condescended to give interviews after the most recent and most publicised gang rape.  I watched her on Times Now, NDTV, and CNN.  She might have given interviews to many other channels too.  She looked like a wax statue that one sees at madametussaudsThat look may be a  gift of current international politics, I grant.   Buy and Sell kind of international politics.  Use and Throw kind of politics.

This Buy and Sell+ Use and Throw is what I learnt about as I was on a routine duty today.  I cannot mention the duty and the place as well as the people involved because of the oath of secrecy that even a stupid school teacher has to take these days.

The duty brought a Delhi policeman face to face with me.  As we waited wasting our time as demanded by our duties [his as a policeman and mine as a school teacher], he asked me what I thought of the most recent and most publicised rape case in Delhi.  I said that Delhi was beyond my understanding.  I couldn’t express myself any better in Hindi.

The policeman opened up.  In fluent and passionate Hindi.  He told me that Delhi was the most corrupt place in the world.  He said that the history of the corrupt practices taking place in Delhi Police in one day alone could fill more pages than the book I was holding [I was holding Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies of which I could not read even a single line, thanks to the policeman.  And the policeman fingered with the pages of my book more times than I would have tolerated].  He said that the criminals involved in the current rape case would be out of the prison as soon as the media leave them.  He said that the same criminals would continue to rape many other women from the next week.  “There are so many people behind these crimes, bhai saab,” he said.  “Too much money.”

I was soon joined by an alumnus of my school, a former student of mine.  He is now a prominent member of a national political party.  He said among many things that a head constable of Delhi Police has constructed a house costing Rs 60 lakh.  “Where did the money come from, Sir?  Can a policeman manage it with his salary?” 

I looked at my rickety scooter.  I wondered about the house that I was going to construct when I retire from the profession of teaching.  I remembered Naipaul’s novel, A House for Mr Biswas.

I realised I was being distracted.  I am too silly for Delhi .

The Delhi policeman gave vent to his ire.  My student asked me why I was continuing in this profession of school teaching.  I requested [almost begged] him to leave me alone in my profession.  I don’t want any promotion, I guaranteed him.  I don’t want anything from anybody.  I’m happy with whatever my school is giving me.  What life is giving me.  This same student told me a year earlier that any Ram, Shyam or Rapist could buy a ticket of his political party for Rs 5 crore.  The amount was highly exaggerated, I thought at that time.  Now I know my student is wiser than me.  He was offering me a better job - for a price, of course. 

The policeman had taken a backseat when the student came.  The student called him back to continue the conversation.  “Take some sunlight,” said the student.  The policeman barked something that I didn’t understand. 

I love Delhi, nevertheless.  It’s so much better than my earlier workplace where the religious people ruled the roost and made my life miserable.  Real politics is far better than religious politics.

But I’m really looking forward to the time I’ll retire from this job and this place and go to my village where I’ll live with ... some simple people, I hope. 

I dream.  I’m a bloody Romantic

Monday, December 17, 2012

Alms for Aam Aadmi




Finally Ms Sheila Dikshit has spoken the truth: the government exists for the rich; the poor will only get alms.  She has fixed the amount at Rs4 per day per person.  Rs600 will be enough to meet the food requirements of a family of 5 persons, according to didi.  They can buy daal, rice and wheat in that amount.
 
Her party is annoyed with her for speaking the truth about the government’s intentions. We should be grateful to didi for giving us an indication of things to come.

In the neoliberal system which India has accepted lock, stock and barrel, the real rulers are the capitalists.  The government exists only for the sake of formulating policies which will enable the capitalists to take over the resources of the country at minimum rates. The Economic Survey 2009-10 stated without mincing words that “prices are best left to the market.”

There will be no welfare government anymore.  No welfare schemes, no subsidies, no Public Distributions Systems.  Instead the government will deposit a certain amount (Rs600 per family?) in the bank accounts linked with the aadhar numbers of the poor people.  The poor can now rejoice.  They can buy food of their choice from places of their choice with the amount (Rs600) that their government will generously offer them.

What didi is saying in effect to the aam aadmi is this: “Don’t rely on your government anymore; the real rulers are the businessmen.”

Don’t think that it is just the didi’s party that will say this.  Look at the way the SP, BSP or the DMK behaved when the issue of Foreign Direct Investment was brought into debate.  They staged a walk-out in order to hoodwink the aam aadmi while, with the same walk-out, paving the way for passing the bill.  They have all mastered the craft(iness) of hitting two birds with one shot.

Only Didi had the candidness to tell us (the aam aadmi) frankly: “We’ll only be able to give you alms.  We have sold ourselves to the capitalists.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Save me from gods




In the year 1257, an elephant died in the Tower menagerie and was buried in a pit near the chapel.  But the following year he was dug up and his remains sent to Westminster Abbey.  Now, what did they want at Westminster Abbey, with the remains of an elephant?  If not to carve a ton of relics out of him, and make his animal bones into the bones of saints?

The above quote is taken from Hilary Mantel’s latest Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Bring Up the Bodies (page 69, Fourth Estate, London, 2012).

Mantel’s novel, which I’m still reading, thrusts before us a lot of questions without ever making it look like thrusting.  I like such novels.  Novels that tickle us into thinking, gently, slowly – quite unlike the fist-wielding street hooligans’ (ab-surd) ways.  I ordered this novel even before it was published in India because I knew it wouldn’t disappoint me.

I have lived for over 5 decades with people who claim to be religious, people who pretend to be good.  The people whom I dread most are the religious.  They can sell anything, kill anybody, and pretend to be holy after all that.  Worse, they can portray the most innocent person as the worst criminal. I have seen it.  I have lived with it.
 
I have begun to hate religion, much as I would hate to hate anything.

Atheist as I have become (I used to call myself an agnostic – but I would now rather be an atheist), my prayer to the teeming gods is: “Save me from your followers.”

Note 1: surd is slang for…?
Note 2: This is a wicked post.  


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two Books on the Games of Life





Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins are two books that I read last.  While the first was sent by a friend who wanted me to read it for reasons that have not been revealed to me yet, the second came as a complimentary copy from the parents of a student.  Coincidentally both are about a world that’s quite different from the one we are used to seeing in regular literature. Both the novels have children as characters.  Both are about the game of war, so to say.

Ender’s Game tells the story of a battle school where children as young as six are enlisted and trained to fight an ominous war with an ingenious and dreadful alien force.  Ender (a corruption of Andrew) is one such six year-old boy who is seen by his trainers as the saviour of our planet.  Ender wins games by circumventing rules.  His determination to win at any cost and the brilliance of his intelligence are what will lead mankind to success in the war against the aliens.

Science fiction has never fascinated me.  The plot of Ender’s Game did not fascinate me either.  Nor the characters.  In fact, science fiction is not meant to study characters; it is meant to give us a thriller of the star wars kind.  Yet I must confess that I enjoyed the wisdom that underlies many dialogues in the novel.  For example, “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them,” “... power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it...” or “... commanders have just as much authority as you let them have.  The more you obey them, the more power they have over you.”

As a teacher, I particularly enjoyed the following: “There are two or three thousand people in the world as smart as us.... Most of them are making a living somewhere.  Teaching, the poor bastards, or doing research.  Precious few of them are actually in positions of power.”

I liked Ender’s Game for such enlightening insights into life.
 
The Hunger Games is nothing more than a thriller.  It kept me delightfully busy during my two day-train journey from Ernakulam to Delhi.  It tells the story of a future world that comes up where the present day America is.  In that country, Panem, there are 12 districts.  One boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 will be chosen by lots from each district to fight one another until only one winner remains alive.  The fight provides live entertainment (reality show) to the country.  In the capital (called the Capitol) the powerful people live in luxury while the poor people in the districts struggle for survival.  The novel can be read as a parable on the globalised world in which the poor are mere fodder for the rich.

The Hunger Games remains a parable, however.  There is no depth in it anywhere – neither in the plot nor in the characterisation.  The story takes place in a world that’s not quite ours.  We can’t identify ourselves with any of the characters.  The novel has already witnessed two sequels.  But I’m not going to read them unless another train journey sends me scouring for thrillers. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Politics of Change



“… there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world.  Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, for instance.  Bismarck.  Lenin.”  [Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card]

The most repeated refrain at my workplace now is “change.”  The focus is always on change from within.  We’ve had a number of “workshops” on the theme.  A lot of Stephen Covey has been shoved down the throats of the participants.  The latest “workshop” ended a couple of hours back.  The participants were enlightened on the 90 / 10 principle of Covey, according to which we cannot change 10 percent of the reality because that is not under our control, but we can change the remaining 90 percent because that is related to our response to the reality.  For example, if my little daughter topples the coffee cup on to my shirt during breakfast, I can choose to let out my ire first on my daughter, then on my wife for being careless about where she placed the cup, then on my car for not being fast enough... end up paying the fine for over-speeding and then making a mess of everything at the office.  OR, I can choose to offer a gentle advice to the girl, change my shirt and proceed coolly, and be a winner.

Well, the choice is about my response to the situation.  So far so fine.  I wouldn’t disagree much.

The expert proceeded to argue that the real change should always be “from within.”  I raised a doubt that if everyone was working on changing themselves from within, the system might never change.  A corrupt political system like the one we have in our country, which propelled the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party, will flourish...

The answer given by one of the participants is that it is we who choose our leaders.  So Covey’s theory is valid: we change our choice of the leaders.  Ha!  I sat wondering how many leaders of my choice exist in the 600-odd political parties in our country.

A more logical answer, I think, would be that even the leaders should change themselves from within.  Wow!  That would be fantastic.  Fantastic, indeed.
 
After the workshop, one of the participants asked me: “What if I change and become the ideal person, and quite many others refuse to change and remain selfish, greedy, jealous...?  Won’t I end up being exploited by them?”

“Why didn’t you ask the question in the workshop?” I asked.

Not one participant had cared/dared to raise his/her hand when the expert asked them whether anyone of them would agree with my view that Covey’s theory was not applicable at the macro level.   

I think Covey’s theory is as good as the Communist principles or the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus or Confucius... If the whole world is willing to change from within, the outcome will be a paradise on earth.
 
But how many people will actually change from within?  My colleague’s fear (above) is extremely relevant.

I’m more inclined toward practical solutions.  That’s why I began this article with a quote from Ender’s Game.  The novel is about a battle school.  I haven’t even read half of it yet.  But I don’t mind applying the metaphor of ‘life as a battle’ to our day-to-day existence.  We can take all the inspiration possible from religions, psychology, or any other source.  But, in the end, we live in the world of the gazelles and the lions celebrated in an African saying (quoted below), according to which the only real option available to both the gazelle and the lion is: start running if they want to survive.  The lion has to run to catch its prey, and the gazelle has to run to escape from the predator.  [An interesting post on a theme very related to this is Raghuram’s latest one: Innocence Undefined.  By the way, it is Raghuram who couriered me his copy of Ender’s Game.  I wouldn’t read this science fiction had he not taken the trouble of forcing it on me.]

The world of human beings isn’t much different (claims to pure vegetarianism, notwithstanding).  Here too, survival is a struggle for many.  A Ben Franklin, a Tom Paine, a Lenin, a Gandhi... will be required once in a while to speak the right word at the right time.  If I may recall Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a cry in the wilderness is known to have started an avalanche.

Allusion:
 “Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Innocence


 Ready?
Go ahead, don't bother about me. I'm just an intruder with a gadget.








Yeah, that's it. You are a newborn calf. You believe my words. Soon you will learn not to.




[Originally posted on 19 Oct 2010.  I'm posting it again because tomorrow my students will return after their Diwali break.]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Is Kasab in Paradise?




According to the lascivious promises made in the Islamic scriptures to the martyrs, Ajmal Kasab must now be in the blissful paradise reclining on “a raised throne woven with gold and precious stones,” wearing “silken garments,” “bunches of fruits hanging within reach,” jugs of wine at hand, served by “Houris with wide, lovely eyes (as wives for the pious), like preserved pearls, a reward for deeds that they used to do”…

Probably, Kasab was not aware of such heavenly rewards when he agreed to hold up the Kalashnikov against the teeming multitude in an Indian railway station.  Somebody with nothing more than primary education and abject poverty as the only resources, Kasab could not have been aware of even the voluptuous aspects of Islamic jihad.  When he was questioned by the police soon after his arrest, Kasab, lying in a hospital bed, said clearly that he had done it for money and nothing else.  He said his father must have been paid lakhs of rupees.  It is that earthly paradise that Kasab was interested in.  And that too, for his family, rather than for himself.  He knew he would die.

He also knew he would die a “martyr.”  So it is not unlikely that he was unaware of the paradise that awaited him in the life hereafter.  His masters must have conjured up a vivid picture of that paradise in the process of brainwashing him.  (One such picture, provided in wikiislam, is what I have given as a link above.  Such paradise cannot be anything but tempting for a young man deprived of even the money to buy a new pair of dress for Eid.)

It is more likely that Kasab died in despair, without even the kind of wisdom that one acquires in solitude or at least the terrifying realisation of one’s depravity.  According to a front page report in The Hindu [Nov 22] which quoted a police official who was present during the execution, Kasab probably did not even understand exactly what was going on.  “It’s also possible he’d ceased to care,” the report quotes.
 
Perhaps his mind had become numb.  Unable to feel, think or react.  A state that may be called “spiritual aridity,” a state that results from inner emptiness.

Will any god reward such emptiness, aridity, with paradise?  I don’t know.  My knowledge about the supernatural is zilch.

But I know that the kind of thinking that underlies the creation of people like Kasab should change if life on this earth (which can be a paradise too!) is to have some semblance of peace.
 
Tariq Ali, writer and film-maker, suggests the following: “We are in desperate need of an Islamic Reformation that sweeps away the crazed conservatism and backwardness of the fundamentalists but, more than that, opens up the world of Islam to new ideas.... This would necessitate a rigid separation of state and mosque; the dissolution of the clergy; the assertion by Muslim intellectuals of their right to interpret the texts that are the collective property of Islamic culture as a whole; the freedom to think freely and rationally and the freedom of imagination.” [The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, Rupa & Co, 2003, pp: 338-9. Emphasis added.]

Alas, a similar suggestion can be made with respect to quite many religions today!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trade Fair Entertainment

Is Delhi starved of entertainment?  The number of people who gathered today, a weekday, at Pragati Maidan to visit the India International Trade Fair (IITF) would make one think so.  The number ran to thousands.

A fraction of the visitors at IITF

If you were to observe for some time you would easily notice that most visitors never bought anything much from any stall.  The only stalls that did good trade were those dealing in food items.

I was also a casual visitor who had no serious intention of buying anything.  I was merely curious and today  being a holiday for me I decided to indulge my curiosity.  The realisation that there are too many people like me in Delhi who visit the IITF merely out of curiosity or just for the heck of it did amuse me.  And people are ready to undergo much inconvenience for the sake of such an insubstantial entertainment.

It was entertaining to watch other people, however.  The way they examine certain things which they may have no intention of buying, the way some people bargain with the traders who have come from other countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam and South Africa...  I was particularly amused by the way a middle-aged woman managed to get a synthetic flower free from a Thai stall by flattering the charms of the young lady who was managing the sales.

A view of the foreign stalls
Some of the state pavilions are beautifully decorated.

At the entrance to the Kerala pavilion

The Gujarat pavilion
I was also struck by the number of boys who went around scrounging waste bins for plastic bottles and other things which they could sell for a pittance.

A woman collecting plastic from a garbage tank
I found very few things at the IITF that I needed.  Of course, I hadn't gone there to buy anything really.  I learnt much, however.  The greatest lesson, perhaps, is that I was fortunate enough to be blessed with the need for nothing. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Was Thackeray an Anachronism?



Bal Thackeray was the Hitler of Maharashtra.  He not only admired the ‘Great Dictator’ but also tried to emulate him by fighting the non-Marathis with all resources available to him.  The number of people in various parts of India who must have celebrated the death of Bal Thackeray at least in the privacy of their hearts may not be minuscule. 

Just as Hitler wanted a Germany of pure Aryans, Thackeray wanted an India of pure Hindus.  His blinkered vision rankled with inveterate hatred for Muslims and Christians, a hatred which went to the extent of getting even cricket matches and pitches dashed to wrack and ruin if the Pakistani team was in the vicinity.  His men, mostly antisocial elements, went around assaulting people who celebrated the Valentine’s Day.  He hated people for loving people.  He did not hesitate to wield his cudgel against Sachin Tendulkar merely for stating that he was a Marathi but also an Indian
This very same Thackeray had, however, no compunction about forming a political alliance with the Muslim League during the Bombay Corporation elections in the 1970s.  Many of his friends till the end of his life were Muslims who had political or financial clout.  One of the physicians whom he trusted most was a Christian, Dr Samuel Mathew.  He was overjoyed to have Michael Jackson perform for his Shiv Sena.  When Michael Jackson condescended to use his toilet, Thackeray’s bowels moved with ebullience.

Was he a bundle of contradictions?

I think he was a blatant anachronism: a Hitler born a century late.

Thackeray lived in a time when nations opened up their borders not only for trade but also for migration.  But he chose to live in a small world guarded ferociously by his puny-minded Cossacks.  When the whole world opened up gates, Thackeray chose to close gates.  He asserted that the land should belong to the sons of the soil.  Who had built up that land as an economic fortress, however?  How many Marathis were responsible for the emergence of Bombay as the economic capital of India?  Of course, such questions do not matter of dictators.

Like every dictator, Thackeray loved to impose his views on others.  He justified his perverse inclination by projecting Shivaji as his patron saint and inspiration.  Hitler was the second most important idol in his pantheon.    He admired Indira Gandhi when she imposed her dictatorship on the country in a foolhardy venture called the Emergency.  This admiration also won him the support of many Congressmen in his state.
It may be a mere stint of irony that Thackeray lost his voting rights from 1995-2001.  After all, he didn’t believe in democracy.  Yet that punishment, for rousing communal passion during electioneering, must have hurt him much since he thought his vote was more valuable than a million others’.
 
Speak no ill of the dead, says the adage.  Let me conclude by saying that Bal Thackeray was a brave man.  Like Hitler.  Like Narendra Modi.  Even like Joseph Stalin whom Thackeray didn’t like because he was Leftist and not Rightist. 

Let me conclude this obituary with Modi baai’s words in honour of the dead: “Balasaheb Thackeray was an epitome of courage and valour.  He was full of life.  He fought like a warrior.  I’ve lost someone who always guided me.”

Alas, leaders like Modi, Thackeray, Hitler, Stalin... don’t need any guiding light.  Aren’t they their own lights?  Like William Blake’s Tiger that burns bright in the forests of the night...?!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jab Tak…?




The movie [Jab Tak Hai Jaan] was a terrible disappointment.  Three hours wasted.  Add another hour for the formalities in the multiplex and the intermission. 

At my age I shouldn’t expect anything great from Bollywood, I know.  But I wanted to enjoy my Diwali break with my wife who loves movies.  Even she felt bored.  May Yash Chopra Rest In Peace.

It’s an ancient story told in the most boring way possible, except for the bikini shot of Anushka in the beginning, and the skimpy dress that both Katrina Kaif and Anushka are asked to wear in quite many places.  Add Anushka’s Delhi spirit, and you have the salt and pepper.

Delhi spirit means superficiality at its best.  Confidence at its best too.  Yash ji was merciful enough to give some depth to Anushka’s character for the sake of the movie.  I think the movie would have been far better if the real Delhi spirit was explored.  But Bollywood is not interested in any spirit, except the commercial one. 

What Anushka’s character says in the movie about the contemporary young generation is quite true, however.  That’s the only worthwhile thing I found in the entire movie.  For the rest, it is balderdash.  Accidents and loss of memory and such rubbish.  Don’t spend your money and time is my recommendation.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Medha Patkar and A K Antony




Medha Patkar was in Kerala today.  She praised A K Antony, India’s present defence minister and Kerala’s former chief minister.  She said that Antony was trying to bring development to Kerala without harming the environment. 

Antony is an honest politician.  No, I don’t mean any irony like the one spoken by Shakespeare’s Brutus about Mark Antony of the ancient Rome (Sonia Gandhi’s Italy).

Yesterday A K Antony criticised the Congress government in Kerala for scuttling many of the progressive measures that the Central government could have done for Kerala.  He said clearly that he was able to do much more for Kerala when the Left govt was ruling in Kerala than now when the Congress govt is ruling.  He said he has no courage now, when the Congress govt is in power, to bring industries to Kerala.  He said that the Left govt had cooperated more with him.  He became emotional mentioning the Left leaders like V S Achuthanandan (former chief minister) and Elamaram Kareem (minister in the Left govt) for the support they gave him in bringing developmental projects.  (I watched both Antony and Patkar on TV – that’s why I could gauge their emotions.)

Kerala’s present Congress govt has been trying to scuttle the Kochi Metro rail project being handed over to Dr Sreedharan of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.  The reason: Dr Sreedharan won’t accept bribes and the policy of bribes.  Which Congress politician in Kerala wants to run a project without what’s called “cuts” ?  This is what made A K Antony emotional.

This is what makes me emotional too.   

When will we Indians rise above the need for “cuts”?  When we will we realise that every “cut” we are making is a cut into the breast of the ordinary Indian, the poor Indian, who still stands in front of a temple or gurudwara for the food supplied in charity?  When will we raise India from that quagmire of charity?
We need more Medha Patkars and A K Antonys.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Novel as history and biography



Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, The Dream of the Celt [Faber & Faber, 2012], delves into the history of the colonisation of the Congo and Amazonia as well as the biography of Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist.

Llosa questions the very validity of history many times in the novel.  Most history, implies the novelist, is a “more or less idyllic fabrication, rational and coherent, about what had been in raw, harsh reality  a chaotic and arbitrary jumble of plans, accidents, intrigues, fortuitous events, coincidences, multiple interests that had provoked changes, upheavals, advances, and retreats, always unexpected and surprising with respect to what was anticipated or experienced by the protagonists” (109-110).

A historical novel may be more accurate than documented history because the novelist looks at the events from a wider and deeper perspective than a historian.  For example, Sir Henry Stanley is portrayed in history as the heroic founder of the Congo Free State.  Stanley, along with David Livingstone, was the ideal that drew Roger Casement to the Dark Continent “in an outburst of idealism and a dream of adventure” (24).

Casement will soon be shocked, however, to realise that “the hero  of his childhood and youth (Stanley) was one of the most unscrupulous villains the West had excreted onto the continent of Africa” (29).  After many years of dedicated service for the natives of Africa and Amazonia, Casement would suffer a blatant distortion inflicted on his character by history. 

Casement understands that the white man’s burden was merely a mask for what in reality was “horrible plundering, ... dizzying cruelty, with people who called themselves Christians torturing, mutilating, killing defenseless creatures and subjecting them, even children and the old, to atrocious cruelties” (88).
 
The novel is divided into three parts.  The first part deals with the colonisation of the Congo, the second with Amazonia, while the third shows Roger Casement’s struggle for the liberation of Ireland from Great Britain and the tragedy he suffered in the process.

History has witnessed many distortions in all the three cases.  For the colonists, colonialism is the process of bringing light into the darkness of savage existence.  In reality, the civilised white man is more bloodthirsty than the savage, whether in the Congo or Amazonia.  Greed and cruelty are the hallmarks of the colonist.
England has its noble side too.  It honours Casement with knighthood for the great work he did in the Congo and Amazonia by reporting the evils perpetrated by the European colonists.

Soon Casement would be seen as a traitor by the same England.

The evils of colonialism persuade Casement to think that Ireland should not be a British colony.  Casement knew that “Patriotism blinded lucidity.”  He understood clearly what G B Shaw meant when he said, “Make no mistake: patriotism is a religion, the enemy of lucidity.  It is pure obscurantism, an act of faith” (170).  Phrases such as ‘act of faith’ in the mouth of a man like Shaw who was a “skeptic and unbeliever” meant superstition, fraud or even worse.   Yet Casement is convinced that colonialism is an evil in any form, even in the civilised form in which it was practised in Ireland.
 
Casement who was knighted by Great Britain a few years ago now is condemned as a traitor.  His biography is now distorted.  His diaries are produced (fabricated?) vindicating his homosexual affairs.  Llosa thinks that “Casement wrote the famous diaries but did not live them, at least not integrally, that there is in them a good deal of exaggeration and fiction, that he wrote certain things because he would have liked to live them but couldn’t” (399 – Epilogue). 

Perhaps the crux of what Llosa wants to show through the novel is expressed succinctly by the novelist himself in the Epilogue: “it is impossible to know definitively a human being, a totality that always slips through the rational nets that try to capture it.”  Llosa’s novel is an imaginative attempt to capture that totality, an attempt that is grounded on solid reality, however.

Note:
1.      The page numbers given in brackets refer to the 2012 Faber & Faber paperback edition of the novel.
2.      While I obstinately use British English in my writing, I have retained American English spellings in the quotes from the novel. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Diwali, Gifts, and Promises



Diwali gifts for me!

This is the first time in my 52 years of existence that I received so many gifts in the name of Diwali.  In Kerala, where I was born and brought up, Diwali was not celebrated at all in those days, the days of my childhood.  Even now the festival is not celebrated in the villages of Kerala as I found out from my friends there.  It is celebrated in the cities (and some villages) where people from North Indian states live. 

When I settled down in Delhi in 2001 Diwali was a shock to me.  I was sitting in the balcony of a relative of mine who resided in Sadiq Nagar.  I was amazed to see the fireworks that lit up the city sky and polluted the entire atmosphere in the city.  There was a medical store nearby from which I could buy Otrivin nasal drops to open up those little holes in my nose (which have been examined by many physicians and given up as, perhaps, a hopeless case) which were blocked because of the Diwali smoke. 

The festivals of North India have not enticed me at all.  I hide myself during Holi in order to avoid smothering my lungs with dust.  I hide myself during Diwali for a similar reason.

And then came this glittering gift.  Surprise of all, from the boss.  The boss may have mastered the art of concealing threats behind a (plastic) smile. 

But the best gift came after the gift-threat offering function.  Another boss (so many bosses these days!) told me that he wanted to discuss with me about a paradigm shift in education.  This was because of the play I staged for the Annual Day, the script of which play is available below.  (The play was about the need for a paradigm shift in the socio-political system.)

Can gifts mean something other than threats?  I mean, can gifts mean promises?  Promises for a better relationships?   

Can festivals like Diwali mean promises to other people, people other than ourselves (other than MYSELF)?  If they can, I’d find them meaningful – in spite of all the pollution for which I’m willing to find a medical remedy.

I came across an old man in the afternoon, a man known to me personally.  “Going to Kerala during holidays?” he asked.  “No,” I said.  “Why?” he wanted to know. 

I explained that the holiday was of just 12 days and it would take me six days to travel, three days each way.  My current situation doesn’t permit a flight.  He gave me a rather long lecture.  On how it used to be in his youth.  How people travelled, even walking many days, in order to meet parents, brothers and sisters.  Now nobody bothers about anybody except themselves, he said.  Life is all about amassing wealth and earth.  “Look at these lands,” he said pointing at the land on both sides.  “It belongs to a person who calls himself a Swami-ji.  They call him Maharaj.  But this Maharaj too will die one day.  He can’t take all these hundreds of acres he has amassed. …”

He went on to tell me about atma (soul) and its spiritual needs.
 
That was also a good Diwali gift, I think.   Not because I believe in atma, but because this friend of mine whom I come across once in a while during my evening walks enlightens me in his own genuine way.