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. 

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...