Friday, August 31, 2012

Modi, India’s future Prime Minister?

Today’s Times of India [31 Aug] reports that according to a survey conducted in 28 cities of India by a Hindi news channel Narendra Modi is the favourite choice as the country’s next Prime Minister. 
We all know that surveys, like most other statistics, emulate the bikini by concealing more than what they reveal.  Nevertheless, I was left wondering why the people wanted Modi, of all people, as the PM.  I refuse to believe that these people are against the minorities in the country whom Mr Modi can eliminate by hiring some Ms Kodnani or Mr Bajrangi who will in turn hire the goons and potential criminals of the society to do the job.  I hope that these people who wish to see Mr Modi in the PM’s chair are laying their eggs in the much-vaunted development basket.
Development became the catch phrase in Gujarat after the pogrom against the Muslims there orchestrated by Mr Modi in 2002 and for which he is paying a heavy price these days.  But did Mr Modi bring any real development to Gujarat?
The Times of India has also published an article [31 Aug] to show that two-thirds of Gujarat’s population, both urban and rural, have the potential to spend less than the state average.  Gujarat’s state average spending potential is less than the national average in the urban areas, and not much higher in the rural sector.  So what’s the development that Mr Modi brought to the state, asks the Times of India.
A couple of months back –  on 23 June, to be precise – Vidya Subrahmaniam wrote an article titled ‘Counting wrongly to 2014’ in The Hindu.  That article argued with much researched data that the hunger levels in Gujarat were much higher than even in UP.  Gujarat’s rank among the states vis-a-vis children’s malnutrition is a miserable 13 among the 17 states surveyed: 44.6% of the state’s children under 5 are malnourished.   The article also showed that Gujarat ranked behind Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu in many parameters such as per capita net domestic product, life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy. 
That’s for the development that Mr Modi is supposed to have brought to his state.
The most hilarious joke is the interview that this potential PM has given to the Wall Street Journal.  In the interview, Mr Modi said that the people of his state are emaciated because they are vegetarian and because they are beauty-conscious.  Some of the women in Gujarat have already taken the cudgel against the potential PM for belittling them so callously.  [I sincerely hope that they will give him a good thrashing.  Unfortunately, they won’t; Modi is too powerful for such good things to happen.] People like me who have nothing to do with Modi bhaiyya can laugh at his jokes.  But for the real Gujaratis the jokes seem to be (must be, I’d like to think) quite as cruel as the massacres he presided over a decade ago.
I wouldn’t like such a joker to be the Prime Minister of my country.  I’m not an admirer of Hitler though I share my birthday with him.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Room with a View

This is a picture taken from one of the rear windows of my residence.  The recent showers in Delhi have given a fillip to the weeds, shrubs and trees so much so that the place which normally looks like a semi-desert has begun to look like a quasi-jungle.  And I love it just for that.  Isn't it a blessing to live in such proximity to nature?

We are also blessed with a fair share of animals and birds. The campus can boast of a wide variety of birds which keep singing, cooing and whistling. Peacocks and their hens used to be regular visitors. 
In the last
couple of years, however, monkeys have all but displaced most of the animals.  They go around stealing pigeons' eggs and even capturing a 'sitting' pigeon.

They can sit majestically like kings on the dishes of our TV connections.  They may sometimes bite into the cables and throw us off our simple 'channel' delights.  They seem to have driven out the peacocks and their hens altogether.  After all, they are our predecessors... it must be in their blood to drive away all goodness and beauty!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Religious or Virtuous?

Very few Popes of the Catholic Church were saints.  Far from being saints, many of them were remarkably depraved compared to the common layperson whom their religion promised to redeem from sinfulness. 
It is not easy to combine worldly power and spiritual sanctity.  Authentic spirituality is a highly personal affair though it can and does wield much power over other people.  The power that Mahatma Gandhi wielded over many of his followers was spiritual to a great extent.  The Buddha and Jesus also wielded spiritual powers.  Unlike them, Gandhi did not become a god because of the time in which he lived.  Like Jesus, however, he was martyred by his own truth.
The power that Jesus, Gandhi and others like them wield is quite different from the kind wielded by, say, Hitler or Osama bin Laden.  It is the power of the truth they believed in and put into practice in their life.   The power that Hitler and Osama possessed was political and hence worldly.  The power that most religious leaders exercise even today is too earthly to be spiritual of any sort.
Spiritual power sees sin or evil as the enemy, while worldly power perceives certain communities of people as the enemies.  The Jews were the enemies for Hitler.  Non-Muslims, particularly the Western Christians, were Osama’s enemies. 
Today, we have a lot of leaders who fight in the name of religions.  None of them has any more spiritual authority than the depraved Popes of the Church.  They are potential conquerors and actual killers.  Their species is multiplying rapidly in our world.  The recent communal disturbance that broke out in a small region of Assam and went on to grip many parts of India is a proof of the decadence of religion today.  The divorce of religion from spirituality seems to be complete now.
Yet it is most likely that political parties with religious garbs will come to power in many countries including India in the days to come.   
Religion is merely a means for covering up our vices, not for curing us of them.
What if a genuinely spiritual person were to emerge today?  He or she would be eliminated – most probably by the priests if not by political leaders – even as Jesus was, even as Gandhi was.  Why?
A genuinely spiritual person would hurt the vanity of the ordinary people who would rather take pride in their little acts of goodness like the weekly worship in a church or temple or mosque, donations for charity, or participation in an anti-corruption rally organised by an apparent do-gooder.  Worse, a genuinely spiritual person would frighten the average believer with his/her inimitable goodness.  [Cf. Bernard Shaw’s preface to Saint Joan]
It is far more advisable to be religious than virtuous!  It has always been so.  Ask the ghost of Socrates, if you don’t believe me.
But there are genuinely virtuous people in this world.  Quite many.  They wisely choose to lead private lives. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A moral tale from Pakistan

Anita Joshua’s article in The Hindu, ‘A growing intolerance’ (Aug 21, 2012), shows how Pakistan has become a nation of haters.  The Pakistanis hate not only the Hindus (7 million Hindus live in that country – imagine the magnitude of the hatred!) and Christians (who are, according to the article, changing their names to “Shahbaz, Shazia, Nasreen, Tahira, and such like”), but also the Muslims of denominations other than Sunni.  Shias, says Joshua, “are pulled out of buses and summarily executed in broad daylight in various parts of the country.”  Sufi shrines are bombed.
“Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated,” says Undershaft, a Shavian character (Major Barbara).  How can there be so many cowards in a country who feel so intimidated as to hate such large numbers of people?
Joshua’s article quotes Harris Gazdar of the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research: “Some of these crimes might be committed by groups with religious motivation, but most such crimes are motivated by money.”
One wonders why Pakistan spread so much hatred in India recently, hatred which prompted thousands of people from the Northeast to leave their jobs in diverse states of India and rush back to their hometowns.  Does that have any economic basis? 
This post is about both: religion and money.
Undershaft, who is quoted above, like many other characters of Shaw, is of the opinion that people in general are quite thoughtless, complacent and sentimental.  The real villains in Shaw’s dramas are the audience.  It is their thoughtlessness and sentimentalism that Shaw sought to purge out. 
Religion is one of the most prominent sources of sentiments.  Most people attach too many sentiments to their gods and scriptures.  And, unfortunately, these sentiments are touch-me-nots.  Unlike touch-me-nots, however, these sentiments don’t droop when touched; they metamorphose into guns and bombs.
Undershaft’s family members are complacent, if not sentimental, in their religious and moral outlooks.  One of them, the protagonist Barbara, is ultra-religious.  She is a Major in the Salvation Army.  Her only goal is to save souls.  Undershaft undermines her religion altogether.  (One wonders whether the protagonist is Undershaft rather than Barbara.) In fact, he ‘converts’ his entire family away from their kind of religion, the complacent, holier-than-thou kind of religion. 
“Well,” says Undershaft who is an arms dealer to his soul-harvesting daughter, “you have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not.  It doesn’t fit the facts.  Well, scrap it.  Scrap it and get one that does fit.  That is what is wrong with the world at present.  It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it won’t scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions.  What’s the result?  In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year.  Don’t persist in that folly.  If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow.”
According to Undershaft’s religion, poverty is “the worst of crimes.”   Poverty poisons us morally and physically.  It kills the happiness of society.  Religions and moralities make a virtue of poverty.  And yet the religious people go around amassing wealth because they know too well that without money they won’t be able to harvest souls.  The Salvation Army in Major Barbara accepts donations from a liquor baron and Undershaft, the arms dealer!
It’s not only money that religionists accept from the arms dealer, they accept arms too.  They indulge in violence of the worst kind in the name of religious virtues.  When they feed a starving fellow creature, it is with the bread donated by some liquor baron.  When they tend the sick, it is in the hospitals built with the black money donated by the industrialists.  These are some of the lessons that Barbara learns from her father. 
There is no running away from the evils that life inevitably throws before us.  We’ve got to act, do what we can to resist the evil.  That is the duty of each one of us.  This is what Shaw’s plays suggest.  (How we will do it depends entirely on each one of us – it’s an individual affair.) Hundred years after they were written, today Shaw’s plays still remain relevant.  Because the human species hasn’t grown up a bit (except in producing better machinery, as Undershaft said above) from the time the Darwinian ape shed its tail and stood erect on two legs.  
Pakistan is merely an example.  Most of us will do much better if we “scrap” our religion and get one that “fits the facts.” 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Where has the music gone?

Many psychologists have argued that the purpose of life is self-actualisation.  In simple words, self-actualisation means becoming a more fully developed, a more complete individual.  It’s an increasing unfolding of one’s potentialities.   It’s personal growth by fulfilling one’s needs.
Kurt Goldstein, professor of neurology and psychiatry, defines need as a deficit state that motivates a person to replenish the deficit.  Need is like a hole to be filled in, a hole in the psyche. 
Psychologists like Abraham Maslow made a hierarchy of human needs.  At the basic level are the physiological needs.  Food, sex, and other needs of the body are very fundamental needs.  The need for security, stability, freedom from fear, need for structure, etc comes at the next level.  Maslow placed “affectionate relations with people in general” in addition to those with family and friends at the third level.  Esteem needs come next; self-esteem as well as esteem from others.  At this level come the needs for fame, status, dominance, attention, and dignity. 
Maslow posited self-actualisation as the highest level need.  He stated that when all four of the basic, deficiency needs have been satisfied, “ a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he, individually, is fitted for.... What a man can be, he must be.”
Goldstein demonstrated the importance of environment in the process of achieving self-actualisation.  The environment provides the necessary supplies for an individual’s psychological growth. 
There is a constant interaction between the individual and her environment.  Paradoxically, the environment plays both positive and negative roles.  The environment provides the means by which self-actualisation can be achieved; it also throws up threats and pressures that hinder self-actualisation. 
For example, when Salman Rushdie wrote his novel, Satanic Verses, he was trying to rise one rung higher on the ladder of his self-actualisation by exploring his religion deeply and in a personal manner.  That exploration was also, at the same time, an attempt to modify the religion, which implied a certain degree of acceptance of the author’s views by other people.  However, what Rushdie received were threats rather than recognition. 
The environment can sometimes be so threatening that the individual can feel frozen, unable to make any progress towards self-actualisation.  Sometimes the environment may not be able to provide the objects and conditions required by the individual.  As poet Thomas Gray said, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
A normal, healthy individual, says Goldstein, is one in whom “the tendency towards self-actualisation is acting from within, and overcomes the disturbance arising from the clash with the world, not out of anxiety but out of the joy of conquest” (emphasis added).   Self-actualisation, in other words, implies mastering the environment.  It’s not aggressive, however.  Both aggression and submission are reactions, and reactions are not in harmony with the self-actualising tendency.   They are merely defence mechanisms, temporary solutions to problems. 
What we usually see in our world today (and, perhaps, at any time) are a widespread prevalence of aggression and submission.  We see people fighting for rights, for wealth, for positions, and even for a corruption-free state.  We also see people submitting themselves before gods, to new and newer cults, to god-men and god-women, terrorists and other new-age messiahs, and especially to gadgets and gizmos. 
As long as we are stuck at this reactionary level, we won’t go any step higher in the process of self-actualisation.  Discontent and restlessness will be our lot.  Isn’t that what we are witnessing today in our world?
In the Preface to his play, Heartbreak House, Bernard Shaw blames the European “middle and professional class” for living shallow lives, materialising “their favourite fictions and poems in their own lives” and living “without scruple on incomes which they did nothing to earn.”  They failed to see the vacuum in their lives.  And Nature, continues Shaw, “abhorring the vacuum, immediately filled it up with sex and with all sorts of refined pleasures...”  Aren’t Shaw’s words more relevant today than the pre-War period that he spoke of?
Our shallowness is reflected not only in sex and all sorts of refined pleasures, but also in our eagerness to wage wars of all sorts at the drop of an SMS.  We are left agape watching the exodus of a whole race of people from all over India back to their homeland.  When will we become human?
Has shallowness become a pathological condition with us?  Have we lost touch with our roots, the depths in our hearts that long for the soothing music of love and compassion?  When will we get back on the road to self-actualisation?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

India’s Entertainment

On this Independence Day of my country, I’m glad to have Baba Ramdev’s entertainment as a prelude.  Most newspapers today, including my Malayalam one, carried photographs of the Baba sticking his neck out of a bus in which he was carried after his arrest.  I must say he has come a long way from the time he tried to escape arrest in the garb of a woman last year: he has the courage to accept arrest now, though he may lack the confidence to carry out his promised indefinite fast.
I love India because of people like Ramdev.  They provide entertainment.  When my wife wants to watch some serial like Na Kaha Aap ne Kutch, Na Kahi Mein ne Kutch (or something like that) on the TV, I urge her to switch to some news channel which will provide better entertainment.  What better entertainment can there be than people like Ramdev and Hazare?  When our politicians turned big bores or at best became the President of India, we are blessed with Hazare and Ramdev. 
Advani has joined the team of entertainers with the public expressions of his personal frustrations.  He is sad that he won’t be the next PM, and, worse, the low caste Modi may grab the post with all the shrewdness he has displayed so far in the Gujarat politics.  Even a Yeddyurappa would be better than Modi in that coveted post, in Advani’s version of Hindutva.  I’m looking forward to another Rath Yatra from Advani.  That will be absolutely entertaining, particularly because Advani is likely to spill too many beans from his heart that has been enduring a lot of imported pesticides and insecticides, Endosulfan included. But he is too senile to undertake another Rath Yatra even in the best of vehicles – and an air-yatra will achieve no political purpose.
Prakash Karat and his wife Brinda Karat will add much to this entertainment.  With the collapse of Marxism everywhere including West Bengal, they are trying to keep it alive in Kerala with the help of mafia groups.  Actually, they don’t know what’s happening in Kerala except what Pinarayi Vijayan tells them.  And when people try to rule with no knowledge of what’s happening around, comedy ensues.  There’s a lot of tragedy too because of the killings involved.  Too many people are killed in Kerala in order to keep Marxism alive there.  Staying far away from that state, I am able to derive a perverse pleasure out of the comedy of politics.
Too many people have been killed in Assam in the recent past.  The Northeast is the most entertaining place in India if you were ever unfortunate enough to have lived there.  They can fight in the name of anything from the length of your nose to the depth of your patience.  They provide us too much entertainment so that we get bored of it.
Entertainment in galore.  That’s India.  I love it for that. And also for the permission it gives me for speaking about it like this. Long Live India.  Happy Independence Day.

An archaeologist dug up the following:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lessons from Dehradun

Dehradun Railway Station
Age has not withered my willingness for learning new lessons in life. That was the real reason why I agreed to take two of my students for a debate competition to a school in Dehradun.

It was my first trip to the place whose railway station reminds us of the colonial days. The British building does not seem to have undergone much change, except that a new wing was added later for reservation of tickets. When we landed there at 5.40 in the morning (very punctually by the timing printed on the ticket!), the railway station looked sleepy and deserted. I attributed it to the time – too early for a small town to wake up. I wondered, though, how the capital of a state in India could afford to be as sleepy as that when the sun had already started smiling gently.

When we returned to the railway station at 3 in the afternoon, after our competition, the railway station did not look much busier. It was then I noticed the metre gauge train that was ticking on platform number 2. Platforms 1 (which is broad gauge) and 2 belonged to the days of the British Raj, probably. Our own train, the Shatabdi Express, stood majestically on platform number 3, though it was to leave at 5 only. Dehradun was indeed a cool place, I thought.

My conversations with two of the teachers, elderly male English teachers like me, who had “escorted” (the technical term used in Public Schools for teachers who take students for programmes like this) their students, hinted that Dehradun might not be much different from Delhi when it came to education. One of the teachers said, “There’s a saying now among the teachers here. If you want to talk to the parents of a child, slap the child. There’s no other way of getting to meet the parents.” Parents pamper the children as much in Dehradun as in Delhi. Consequently the children are no different in the two places. The teacher who made this remark taught in a famous public school in Delhi. He was too sick of the Delhi ways to continue beyond three months. “Dehradun is not much different now,” he concluded.

Platforms 1 and 2
 At least the auto rickshaw drivers in Dehradun are not much different from their counterparts in Delhi. They knew how to identify strangers and fleece them. But the restaurant where we had lunch gave us a surprise: a delicious lunch for one third of the price that Delhi would have charged.

I liked the streets and roads in the town, most of them flanked by tall and green trees. Of course, I was able to see only a small number of streets and roads. I wished all the roads and streets in our country were like them. Wishes come free of charge, anyway.

One wish I killed mercilessly was for a bathroom in the school. My students and I were taken to one of the hostel rooms so that we could wash ourselves and change our dress. Standing in the bath hall – yeah, it was a hall with a row of taps and showers on a wall – for the first time in my life I longed for a little more privacy while taking bath. Mercifully, all the students had left the hostel for their classes and my own students had finished their bath too. So I took bath standing in the largest bathroom that my life has ever afforded me.

I met in the school a person who had been associated with my life for a few years in Delhi. As my students and I were preparing to leave the school, he said he wanted to give me something. As I followed him to his office, he said patting one of his diminutive buttocks, “It does pain much.” Earlier, before the competition began, he had told me that he was leaving his present job because of some health problem. He mentioned the problem as some pain in the back. I had not noticed, however, the part of the back that his hand was trying to touch as he spoke it. But the parting shot was quite clear: “You are a pain…” – yeah, right down there! I might have been one back in those days when we both worked in the same institution. But now, when he and I had nothing to do with each other? “I still have good relationships with so and so,” he condescended to explain. I understood the message: I am still a pain in the posterior of certain people who are important to him. That’s the real lesson I learnt from Dehradun.

As I stood in the Delhi metro train travelling from Chattarpur to New Delhi railway station at 10.30 in the night of our journey to Dehradun, a totally unexpected SMS landed in my mobile phone. I deleted the message as soon as I read it with a grin. The message asked/invited me to attend a “night vigil” at a Catholic ashram in Faridabad and make my confession. I don’t know who had given my number to the ashram. I don’t know this person on whose posterior too I might have inflicted some pain! I know, however, that I’ve had no official relationships with any Catholic for over a decade.

How to stop being a pain in the posterior of people? I have already placed the order for Rhonda Byrne’s latest book, Magic.

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...