Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sweetie Gandhi

Historical Fiction

“My force is ready, Sweetie,” said Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw on 3 Dec 1971. 

Indira Gandhi did not display her annoyance at being called Sweetie because she could not afford the display at that time, much as she loved displays.  She wanted to win the war with Pakistan and Manekshaw was the only person who could do it for her. 

It took seven months for the military leader of India to give her the assurance that his fighters were ready.  Ms Gandhi wanted immediate solutions.  Manekshaw said, “I’m a fighter.  Honest fighter.”

Seven months ago, his question to Ms Gandhi the Prime Minister was, “Have you read the Bible?”

“What has the Bible got to do with this?” asked Sardar Swaran Singh, Foreign Affairs Minister. 

“See the first pages.  ‘Let there be light,’ said God.  And there was light.  Now you say, ‘Let there be war.’  And there will be war.  Wars can take place at the whim and fancy of any ruler.  But are we prepared?  Going to war without necessary preparations is the first step to damnation.”

“But the Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura are angry with me.  The Pakistanis from East Pakistan are entering their states because of what Butcher of Bengal, bloody General Tikka Khan, is doing in East Pakistan.  I am the Prime Minister of the country.  I have to safeguard every state.”

Manekshaw flared up.  “You didn’t consult me when you allowed the BSF, the CRP and RAW to encourage the Pakistanis to revolt. Now that you are in trouble, you come to me. I have a long nose. I know what’s happening.”

Indira Gandhi’s nose twitched.  Her face bent down a little for the first time.  Manekshaw didn’t like that.  He didn’t want his PM’s face bending down in front of anyone, not even before the boss of the armed forces of the country.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“I want you to enter Pakistan,” said Indira Gandhi.

“That means war,” said Manekshaw.   “Give me time.”  He knew that summer was just the wrong time to start a war in the mountains with all the rains that would come confusing the Indian Army that was not used to rains.  Snow in the winter was a good mask for fighters.

Indira Gandhi was angry.  “I can dismiss you from your post.”

“Do if you wish so,” Manekshaw’s nose twitched.

“I give you time,” said Indira Gandhi who understood the integrity of the man whose nose twitched more significantly than her own.

And Bangladesh was born in less than a year’s time.  After one of the shortest wars in history: just 13 days. 

Indira was “Sweetie” to Manekshaw and Manekshaw was a fighter who saw light even in a war.

Inspired by the following link and also by the present PM of India who has an army officer (who challenged the Indian government) as a minister in his cabinet.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Luminaries

Book Review

Author: Eleanor Catton
Publisher: Granta, London, 2013
Pages: 832       Price in India: Rs799

There are some books which extract a sigh of relief from us as we turn their last page.  The winner of the 2013 Booker Prize belongs to that category.  You feel relieved that it has come to an end at last.  You feel like a child who has successfully put together all the pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle after a gruelling struggle.

14 Jan 1866.  Crosbie Wells is found dead in his cottage.  Anna Wetherell is found almost dead elsewhere.  Emery Staines has vanished.  Francis Carver has sailed away in a barque that he bought from Alistair Lauderback presenting himself as Crosbie Wells.  An amount of 4000 pounds (a huge sum in those days) is missing.  Alistair Lauderback has a connection with the real Crosbie Wells which the former does not want to acknowledge. 

832 pages are devoted to unravel the above mysteries which are all related to one another.  Hokitika had many gold mines and a lot of people went over there in order to build up their fortunes.  Eleanor Catton brings together in her voluminous novel about a score of such fortune seekers in Hokitika whose destinies become entangled in a web of fraudulent activities perpetrated by a handful of unscrupulous individuals within the motley group.

“There’s no charity in a gold town.  If it looks like charity, look again,” is Crosbie’s advice to Anna Wetherell who has landed newly in Hokitika and has been chaperoned by Lydia Wells.  Lydia is too kind to Anna.  “There is no such thing as too much kindness,” Lydia would soon warn Anna.  Warnings notwithstanding, 21 year-old, beautiful Anna, “a breath of fresh air... Unspoiled” (in Crosbie’s perspicacious evaluation), becomes a whore in Hokitika. 

There is no place for any romantic idealists and seekers in a gold town.  Anna is not the only such person who becomes a victim of the gold town’s value system.  Emery Staines is a young man with boyish charms, physically as well as psychologically.  He is “a curious mixture of longing and enthusiasm... delighted by things of an improbable or impractical nature, which he sought out with the open-hearted gladness of a child at play.”  He will learn the utterly practical side of life in the hard way.

The villains don’t escape, however.  Not entirely at least.  Some of them get the retribution they deserve.  Is there any fair system of justice in the world?  “A woman fallen has no future; a man risen has no past.”  That’s what Anna seems to learn at one stage, though later Emery Staines will open “a new chamber of (her) heart.”  There indeed is a place for romantic idealism and love even in a gold town.  Like in any other place, however, the idealism will have to undergo the seasoning processes in some excruciating crucibles. 

The Luminaries is not an easy novel to read.  The very thickness of the book can be a Himalayan challenge.  The plot is engrossing, but the development is drawn out so long as to try the reader’s patience.  Catton also fails in unfolding the inner personalities of her characters by means of what they say and do; she takes recourse to detailed descriptions of her characters in her own words.

Those who love difficult reading and want to spend time during the summer vacation (as I’m doing) can go for this novel.  It is a good challenge to take up.  The last parts of the novel may put you off further with their cinematographic technique of providing still shots in order to complete the missing parts of the gargantuan jigsaw puzzle.  But you can put down the book with the satisfaction that the puzzle was worth solving and has been solved perfectly. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Season of Peace

You don’t mess with the Zohan is a 2008 Hollywood slapstick comedy.  Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorist who becomes bored of all the violence and moves secretly to the USA where he becomes a hairdresser assuming the pseudonym of Scrappy Coco (names of the two dogs with whom he had shared the flight).  He lives in the lower Manhattan where Middle Eastern Americans abound. The Palestinians and the Israelis live on opposite sides of the street.  Zohan becomes a freak success in the salon run by a Palestinian woman named Dalia after giving a haircut to an old woman with whom he also has sex soon after the very ‘loving’ haircut.  Dalia’s business booms because of Zohan’s double services and a corporate magnate who wants to evacuate the emigrants in order to construct a roller coaster mall is beaten.  A lot of hilarious comedy and much Hollywood action later, Zohan the Israeli marries Dalia the Palestinian. 

Pope Francis at the wall built by Israel
The movie brings out in its own unique way the futility of violence, particularly violence in the name of religion and nationality.  In the last few days two important incidents took place related to this theme of peace and harmony.  One is Pope Francis’s visit to the Middle East.  He invited the leaders of Israel and Palestine to Rome with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem between the two countries.  Both the leaders have accepted the invitation, according to reports.

The second major event is the presence of the Pak Prime Minister (along with other dignitaries, of course) at Mr Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony.  Today the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan will discuss and let us hope that they will arrive at some kind of a peace treaty.  Let us also hope for a solution to the problem in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalas and the Tamils. 
Courtesy: The Hindu
May good sense prevail!

Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the Pope, is believed (only believed) to have composed the following prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Let us hope for a better world.  Let Zohans and Dalias, Khans and Khannas, Vadivelus and Vidusahanis marry each other and transcend man-made borders.  Let slapstick comedy metamorphose into genuine happiness.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Admirer of Beauty

John Keats admired beauty.  Otherwise he could not have written the poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’.  The poem narrates the story of a knight in the middle ages who met a beautiful woman in some wilderness.  She, the beauty, allowed him to take her on his horseback to some places as he wished until finally she took him to her cave and lulled him to sleep.  When the knight woke up, the beauty had disappeared.  He went in search of that beauty all over the valley. Keats’ poem ends with the statement that the knight is still searching for the beautiful woman in that valley years and years after she deserted him.  You would think he was a ghost in case you met him there in that valley. 

Seekers of beauty became ghosts in Keats’ era (early 19th century)

But Keats belonged to an era when people, at least some people, quested after truth which they thought was beauty.  “Beauty is truth and truth beauty.”  Didn’t Keats write that too?  And you don’t need to know anything more than that, Keats said that too.  How idealistic!  No wonder the guy died at the age of 26, in poverty.  Anyone who equates truth with beauty cannot live long.  Should not, in fact.  How can we, the pragmatic people, bother to care for truth which is equal to beauty and beauty which is equal to truth?

That’s why our own Gabriel Marquez, who died a few days back at the age of 87 having relished the luxury of life, wrote the short story ‘Sleeping beauty and the airplane.’  In that story, the narrator feels he is lucky to have a beautiful woman on a seat next to his in the New York-bound airplane.  But the woman falls asleep as soon as the flight takes off.  The narrator is left to admiring the sleeping beauty until the end of the flight.  His indirect efforts to wake her up are all in vain.  At the end of the flight, the beauty “disappeared into the sun of today in the Amazon jungle of New York.”

Beauty lies in the Amazon jungle of New York.   We, Indians, will soon have the Amazon jungle of New York coming to India too.  Our economy is poised for a revolutionary rejuvenation.  The Amazon jungle of New York coming to the starving millions of India’s wilderness is going to be a new miracle of 21st century.  The revolution has begun today, 26 May 2014.  A new Beauty is going to be born in India.  You and I will be Keats’ knight in the wilderness or Marquez’s admirer in the airplane.  There is no other choice, I think.  Marquez is a better option, of course: let the beauty sleep and let us make money writing stories about her instead of letting her bewitch us. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Paroxysms of Truth

Proceed at your own risk
“I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths – and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective.”

The quote is from the arduous novel that won the Booker Prize last year, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  The emphases are added by this author who is still plodding through the novel one week after he started reading it.

When Mr Narendra Modi, the Emperor of the South Asian Region, invited the whole Luminaries of the (defunct) SAARC continent to his coronation ceremony, truth began to wiggle and wriggle in my solar plexus until it became a paroxysm.   I had decided to ignore politics in my writing.  But my new Prime Minister won’t let me do it, it seems.  He is the actor par excellence.  Nobody in Indian politics will ever outshine him in histrionics, I am quite sure.

Robert Graves may be inspired to resurrect himself from his grave to write yet another sequel to his unparalleled novel, I, Claudius.

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot", or "That Claudius", or "Claudius the Stammerer", or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius", am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled.” 

Claudius the Emperor. Unhappy childhood.  Child marriage.  Marital longings.  Power unlimited working like a drug to counteract human longings.  Feeling pangs of love again and declaring it in some affidavit...

Mr Modi questioned the ruling party whenever it tried to engage Pakistan on friendly discussions.  As long as Pak-sponsored terrorism in India does not end, there must be no dialogue.  The docile Manmohan Singh buckled his boots and eventually hung them up.  The princely Gandhi buckled down under the pressure of the dying empire.  William Dalrymple is planning to write his next book titled The Last Gandhi.

Pakistan is still trying to come to terms with the new Indian Empire.  To attend the coronation or not to attend.  The Hamlet in Sharif is wondering whether he should be sharif with the Uncle on the Throne. 

Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam in a corner of India can scream itself as hoarse as it wants against the Sri Lankan President’s presence at the coronation of Modi on account of what that country did to the Tamils.  But the the Vindhyas will block all anti-Modi clouds and convert them into rains for the arid political landscapes in the lands where the wars that really mattered were fought.

China knows all the games that any Emperor anywhere in the world knows.  Opium still grows in Tibet.

Does any other nation in SAARC matter?  Does it matter whether any maidservant in the palace is alive or dead?  What matters is that they should pay homage to the crown in the manner that befits each one’s status.

“I have done many impious things--no great ruler can do otherwise. I have put the good of the Empire before all human considerations. To keep the Empire free from factions I have had to commit many crimes.”  Robert Graves is rising from his grave to write his sequel.

But Eleanor Catton tells him, “Come on, buddy, your time is over.  The century has changed.  We play a different set of games.  More dangerous games.  Funnier games.  The same old wine but the bottle matters.”

And Graves returns to his grave in spite of himself. 

The coronation takes place.  One empire dies and another takes birth.  As naturally as Nicholas bowed down to Stalin.

PS: I tried to be humorous and learnt that humour is meant for geniuses. 

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Busy People

In 1928, eminent economist  John Maynard Keynes wrote in an essay that in a century the standard of life in Europe and America would improve so much that people would have a lot of leisure.  By 2028, “our grandchildren,” wrote Keynes, would have to work only about three hours a day.

The economist was quite wrong, it seems.  14 years away from his predicted time,  the standard of life improved, no doubt, but work or work-related activity has increased more than ever even in the continents he mentioned.  In our own country too, the standard of life has improved considerably.  But we find that the working hours in offices have increased rather than decreased.  In spite of superior technologies like the computer in place of the typewriter, and rapid communication systems like the email, we find ourselves busier than people of the previous generation.  In fact, people had much more time for relaxation in the olden days.   I remember how people of my parents’ generation used to spend hours almost every day chatting and gossiping. 

Picture: From the Internet
We have now become so busy that we don’t even have time to sit idle even while travelling.  If you travel by the Delhi Metro trains you will be amused if not amazed to see almost everyone busy with the mobile phone or some other gadget or reading books or newspapers.  Some of that activity is entertainment, not work-related; people listen to music or play games on their gadgets.  On the whole, however, people are busier than ever.  No one, it seems, has time even to look at other people let alone communicate with them.

In 1976, psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in his book, To Have or To Be, that technological societies foster ‘having orientation’.  That is, people want to have a lot of things; they are highly competitive.  The ideal would be ‘being orientation’ which focuses on what one is rather than what one has.

It seems Fromm is more correct than Keynes.  We have become more technological and more competitive as well as acquisitive.  Since technology is getting better by the day and more sophisticated and complex too, we can expect people becoming more and more busy.  Commodes may come with an attachment for the laptop.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All the best, Mr Modi

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," said Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon.  Great conquests make some people feel unduly proud, while they make others humble.  Mr Narendra Modi’s speech in the Central Hall of the Parliament yesterday showed us a totally different face of the man.  He was humble and tame.  Gone were the characteristic hubris and mockery of others. 

"I have seen new facets,” said Mr Modi.  New facets that prompt him to be a leader of the poor and the downtrodden, a leader of all the people in the country.  Let me quote him in full: “A government is one which thinks about the poor, listens to the poor and which exists for the poor. Therefore, the new government is dedicated to the poor, millions of youth and mothers and daughters who are striving for their respect and honour. Villagers, farmers, Dalits and the oppressed, this government is for them, for their aspirations and this is our responsibility. And this is our responsibility. I have seen new facets.”  [Quoted from the version given at The Hindu website]

Standing on the moon, Mr Armstrong must have seen new facets.  The conquest of Everest must have revealed new facets to Edmund Hillary.  I hope Mr Modi’s words come from genuine sentiments engendered by clearer vision from the top.  I hope he will fulfil the momentous promise he has made to the nation. I’m ready to put aside my incongruities with him on account of his past.  Let bygones turn into atonements.  The nation and its future are more important than the glories of the ancient past as well as the errors of the recent past.  Let there be a shining India ahead.  I wish Mr Modi all success.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Let diversity remain

A former student of mine made the following suggestion on FaceBook. 
Most European languages can be traced back to a root language that is related to Sanskrit – the sacred language of the ancient Vedic religions of India. Many English words actually have Sanskrit origins. It's a shame however that in our own country we don't adapt anything unless it comes recycled from the west.
We must reclaim what's ours and give it a deserving place. A message from the Prime Minister can do wonders in that direction. What do you think, would it not be great if NaMo takes his oath in Sanskrit?
The writer later clarified that he was not very serious about it.  However, he had given me a jolt already because I had noticed him as a student who was too passionate about exclusive nationalism.  Personally, I don’t take individual views seriously unless they become a threat to public welfare.  Now that the young man is becoming highly articulate riding on the exultant wave of BJP’s ‘historic’ victory in the recent elections, I’m a bit worried.  With his tacit consent, I write this.

It is true that Sanskrit and most European languages have the same origin.  But did they originate in India?  Is Sanskrit the mother of all those languages which belong to the family called Indo-European or Indo-Germanic languages?  Or is Sanskrit just another member of the family?  More importantly, did Sanskrit originate in India or did it come to India from the West?

Let me quote from a recent issue of Science Daily: “The majority view in historical linguistics is that the homeland of Indo-European is located in the Pontic steppes (present day Ukraine) around 6,000 years ago. The evidence for this comes from linguistic paleontology: in particular, certain words to do with the technology of wheeled vehicles are arguably present across all the branches of the Indo-European family; and archaeology tells us that wheeled vehicles arose no earlier than this date. The minority view links the origins of Indo-European with the spread of farming from Anatolia 8,000 to 9,500 years ago.”

Romila Thapar, Indian historian of considerable repute, thinks that the Aryan speakers entered India by the mid-second millennium BC when “the cities of the Indus civilization” had declined.  The Aryans, according to Thapar [The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300], entered the north-west of India from the Indo-Iranian borderlands, migrating in small numbers through the passes in the north-western mountains to settle in northern India.”  Slowly they moved southward searching for pasture for their cattle.

Citing ample evidence, Thapar argues that “Indo-Aryan is of the Indo-European family of languages and there is a linguistic relationship with some ancient languages of west Asia and Iran, as well as some that took shape in Europe.” She adds that Indo-Aryan “also incorporated element of Dravidian and Munda, languages known only to the Indian subcontinent.”

So, Sanskrit is not of Indian origin, really!  My problem is not whether it is of Indian origin or Western origin, but the spirit of revanchism in my young friend. “We must reclaim what’s ours...,” he asserts.  Ignorance is not a crime as long as one does not use it for nefarious purposes.  Falsification of history is a crime, and a serious one when put to political uses.  We may recall how BJP tried time and again to falsify history.  The following link mentions a few examples: Doctoring textbooks

Revanchism and falsification of history, both, are serious threats to the integrity of a country like India marked by varieties of all sorts: religious, linguistic, cultural and even racial. 

If we seek a genuine understanding of history, we may be dismayed to find that the entire human race belongs to one family.  Languages, religions and cultures are mere accidents that evolved over time for the sake of certain conveniences.   It is better to seek ways of living together in the present than digging up ethereal relics of the past. 

However much we may wish to live in peace and harmony, there will be divisions among us just as there are occasional quarrels in a family.  It is the duty of any responsible citizen to avoid conflicts and conflict-generating misrepresentations.  The duty becomes even more vital when dark clouds are gathering beyond the horizon. 

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Enemy Within

I celebrated the onset of the summer vacation watching Life of Pi on Star Movies.  I haven’t read the novel and hence don’t know how far the movie is loyal to it.  Experience has taught me that movies generally do much injustice to written texts.  I liked the movie, however.

The tiger as well as the other animals on the lifeboat may be an invention of Pi.  Though he tells us another story replacing the animals with human characters, he leaves us with the option of choosing between the two tales, without ever telling us conclusively which the real version is.

The film is a kind of fable with a moral.  Religions and gods are as good as stories and myths in man’s attempt to discover meaning in life, shows the movie.  They are all palliatives in times of anguish.  Man liberates himself from his pains by transmuting the pain into a narrative.  Religion does the same thing in a slightly different way.  Perhaps, religion has the added advantage in the form of omnipotent and omniscient god(s); gods who care so much that they can incarnate in the form of a fish for the sake of a hungry tiger or a god who can send his own son to suffer and die on a cross. 

Pi believes that his tale can lead others to god(s).  God (let me use the singular form for the sake of convenience) helps in dealing with trauma of all sorts.  God is a soothing balm, if not a subliminal drug.  God gives hope in times of absolute despair.  God makes life meaningful when the going is the toughest. 

God helps to keep the enemy within us (the wild tiger or the rapacious hyena) under control.  There is wild creature within all of us.  We have to confront it and come to terms with it if we are to live happily.  Pi confronts the tiger within himself, a creature that is wild and untameable.  He learns eventually various strategies to keep the beast under control.  Finally the beast will leave him without as much as a grateful look, in spite of all that he has done to keep it alive.

Pi could not have killed the tiger; it was an integral part of himself.  It was his alter ego.  It his enemy that is within himself.   He has gained mastery over that enemy in the way that is possible: partial subjugation and a lot of love. 

Learning to love the wild side within us is important if we are to love ourselves properly.  When we fail to do that, we end up inflicting others with the all viciousness of the brute. 

I liked the movie and may not read the novel.  Perhaps, I won’t be able to accept Yann Martel’s views on god and religion.  While I accept the therapeutic value of religion and god, I remain a non-believer.  Worse, I’m an agnostic in theory.  I understand that the novel is totally opposed to agnosticism because it is noncommittal.  Atheism is better because it is assertive; it believes that there is no god.  Some belief, a leap of faith, is far more valuable than being noncommittal, according to Martel, as I understand. 

The problem, here, however, is that faith is not really one’s choice.  I tried my best to believe but couldn’t.  Yet I find myself drawn irresistibly to religious figures like Jesus and the Buddha.  I find Mahatma Gandhi’s view on religion much more charming than his political views.  Myths hold much fascination for me.  But faith?  No.  That’s one of the aspects of the tiger within me, I guess.  I prefer to be honest to myself and accept the tiger as my own.  

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Saturday, May 17, 2014


“Clean my toilet,” said principal to peon in the India Public School.

“I’m a peon,” asserted the peon.

“Narendra Modi is our Prime Minister, you know,” said the principal menacingly.  “You have to obey now.”

“I choose to quit.”  The peon was very proud of his caste profession.

The peon resigned.  “Dignity of labour,” he gave reason.

And he became a toilet cleaner in Mona Towers built on land taken over from farmers by Namo Builders and Developers in collaboration with the USA. 

The only problem now is that he doesn’t know how to convert dollars into Indian rupees.  J

Friday, May 16, 2014

Modi Market

“Modi Bhagwan ka Jai Ho!” greeted the phone call.  It was my friend, Joseph.  I don’t know whether he said ka or ko or ki or ke or ku.  My knowledge of Hindi is as bad as his and my knowledge of vowel sounds is not as good as Prof Higgins’s. 

“Why are you so thrilled?” I asked.  “Excited about being sent to some gas chamber or something?  Freudian death wish!”

“Nahin, yaar.”  It was interesting to hear Hindi from someone who never spoke that language with me.  Some people are intractable survivors.  “I managed to sell all the stock I have been holding in my portfolio for over two years.  The moment Modi’s party won the elections the stocks simply sold out at a decent profit.”

“Jai Ho!  Hail Modi!”  I said in spite of myself.  “It means that now I can sell the little land I have in Kerala for some profit.”  Enthusiasm is contagious, as Rajneesh Baba said.

“You don’t have to sell it, yaar,” said Joseph with the enthusiasm that Goebbels had when the Second World War broke out.  “Modi Bhagwan will take it over for the Tatas or the Ambanis or even for Barrack Obama.  You know, Modi paid well for all the land he took over from the farmers in Gujarat when Tata Motors wanted to set up business there to manufacture cars that don’t sell.  I just found it out by Googling...”

I didn’t understand what Joseph was saying.  I remembered that the first name of Goebbels was Joseph and got stuck with that memory. 

That’s my problem.  I get stuck with history sometimes. 

“Hitch your wagon to the Modi star, you idiot,” Joseph continued.  “He is our Saviour, our Redeemer, our Rama, our Allah...”

“Our market, you mean?” I blurted out.

“Amen,” he said. 

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

50 Years after Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, died 50 years ago (27 May 1964).  Tomorrow the country will get to know a new Prime Minister, most probably.  How far will we have come from Nehru then?

Nelson Mandela, while admitting Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on him, said, “But Nehru was really my hero.”  Nehru was a true democrat, explained Mandela in his Rajiv Gandhi Foundation lecture on 25 Jan 1995, who strove to ensure a life with dignity for every citizen.  Nehru transcended the narrow boundaries like religion that tended to divide man against man. 

Arguably, Nehru’s greatest contribution to India was his concept of secularism.  Today the word causes frowns on the foreheads of the country’s culture guardians.  The Congress that ruled over India after Nehru is to be blamed partially for those frowns.  But the lion’s share of the blame should go to the vested interests of certain other political parties and religious organisations that refused to understand Nehru’s secularism.

Nehru wanted religion to be left to the individuals.  The state should have no official religion.  The state should respect all religions and even non-believers.  Nehru was an agnostic whose religion was humanity.  Poverty was an ugliness produced by ignorance and passive resignation engendered mostly by religions.  Even today ignorance is encouraged and propagated by religions.  Passive resignation has, however, given way to active militancy which is more perilous.  It is good to be reminded of what Nehru told Gandhi, “You have stated somewhere that India has nothing to learn from the west and that she has reached a pinnacle of wisdom in the past.  I entirely disagree with this viewpoint and I neither think that the so-called Ramarajya was very good in the past, nor do I want it back.”

Radicalism of any sort was abhorrent to Nehru who held very clearly rational views.  Technology and development were Nehru’s religions, so to say.  He dared to call dams India’s temples.  Human dignity was the ultimate goal. 

Nehru was a scholar who wrote many books that can be considered classical.  He emerges as a visionary who valued every human life as important.  The practical ways of ensuring a life of dignity to every person would be secularism, socialism and a scientific approach to reality including history.  Nehru detested fascism and the Nietzschean supermen spawned by fascism.  He criticised the potential dictator within himself with ruthless clarity.  Caesarism with its “vast popularity, a strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organisational capacity, ability, hardness and ... love of the crowd and intolerance of others ... over-mastering desire to get things done, to sweep away what he dislikes and build anew...” is an ominous menace to the country and its democracy. 

The words quoted belong to Nehru himself.  He was introspecting in an article he wrote anonymously.  Fifty years after his death, will we end up getting a Prime Minister who embodies all the vices that Nehru feared the most?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cenotaphs of Orchha

Off the Betwa river, the skyline of Orchha is marked by the pinnacles of the cenotaphs constructed in memory of the Bundela kings and lords.  The chief hobby of most kings and lords in the olden days was conquest.  The victors and the vanquished fill the pages of our history books in the colour of blood. 

Orchha’s cenotaphs have stood for centuries reminding us of the futility of all victories.  All cenotaphs and mausoleums remind us of the ultimate fate of all human beings: “Out of dust, to dust again,” as Bahadur Shah Zafar wrote after being imprisoned by his British conquerors. 

But the last Mughal Emperor also wrote the following lines in the same poem.
You pressed your lips upon my lips,
Your heart upon my beating heart...

Life is a love affair.  A series of love affairs, rather.  We love people, things, and whatever else adds delight to our life which would be a dreary enterprise without these love affairs.  Political power and sublime art, religious piety and worldly pleasures, racial smugness and facile miscegenation... contradictory forces meet and mate in the process called life.  That’s how life is.  That’s how it has to be, perhaps.  Because life is an endless lesson until the inevitable lesson descends upon us.

“But things cannot remain, O Zafar,” to quote the Last Mughal again.

Flesh merges into dust in the end.  Only cenotaphs and mausoleums will remain on the dusty pages of history. 

The Betwa will continue to flow.  While it carried the blood of the vanquished in the erstwhile years, now it will carry the plastic waste dumped by careless visitors.  However, you will be relieved to see that the Betwa looks much cleaner than most holy rivers in the country.

The Betwa and the cenotaphs made me contemplative.  This is my last post on the Orchha visit. 

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Dumbness of Orchha

Our tourist guide was deaf and dumb. 

Chaturbhuj Temple
Maggie and I landed in Orchha rather unexpectedly.  We had no idea what lay in store for us there except that some parts of the movie, Raavan, were shot there.  The auto driver stopped in the parking lot and pointed at an ancient structure and mumbled something.  I asked him what it was and he said while pushing his auto into its parking corner, “Mandir (temple).  There’s also a mahal (palace).”  He did not look cooperative at all.  He must have been irked by the cop who swindled Rs 50 out of him at the UP-MP border though he added that amount to our fare in the end.  “What fault did you commit so that you had to bribe the cop?” I asked when he had returned from the cop.  “It’s the routine...” he mumbled with palpable irritation.

The Ascent
We ascended the granite steps of the Chaturbhuj temple.  A honeycomb lay hanging on the arch at the entrance.  There was a priest conducting some rituals and a few devotees were attending them.  We looked around, up and down, and then proceeded to the other side where another flight of concrete steps would take us down.  As we were descending a boy made a gesture to us from below.  He was asking us to wait.  We did wait as he ran into a small door and came out with two things: a key and a sign board that he hung on his neck briskly asking us to read it.  It said, “I am deaf and dumb, help me.”  Then he dangled the key on our faces making another gesture that meant, “Follow me.”

“He has something to show us,” I said to Maggie.  We followed him.  He opened a small door which led to a very narrow path.  He gave me a torch and made another gesture.  We went in, climbed up many narrow and steep steps conquering the various levels of the temple until we reached the top from where the view looked quite charming.  I did not understand most of what our guide was trying to communicate through his generous gestures.

A view from the top
When he brought us down some half an hour later, we rewarded him amply and proceeded to other sites of interest.  On the way, we had our breakfast at Amar Mahal which looked palatial.

Orchha did not look neglected really.  But there was something about the place that sapped its potential to be a tourist attraction.  All along the way, the landscape looked like a desolate wilderness dotted with some thirsty bushes and trees. 

There is a new temple adjacent to the ancient structure.  There were hundreds of devotees standing in a queue with their holy offerings in hand.  Perhaps, Orchha is a religious centre rather than a tourist attraction, I thought.  In spite of all that crowd, the place looked very quiet without any rush or sound.  Maybe, we had reached the place at a wrong time in a wrong season.  Nevertheless, there was something dumb about the place. 

Amar Mahal where we relished a buffet breakfast
As we made our way back after visiting the other places, our tourist guide came running to meet us again.  He folded his hands with a beaming smile on his face.  That smile sparkled against the grimness of all the granite around.  In fact, that was the only smiling face I ever saw in Orchha.

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Related post: The Eagle of Orchha

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Eagle of Orchha

Orchha lies 15 km away from Jhansi.  While Jhansi is in Uttar Pradesh, Orchha is in Madhya Pradesh.  Tourists probably don’t take interest in Orchha which has nothing much to offer except what is known as Jahangir Mahal.  

I happened to reach Orchha by destiny.  Purely by destiny.  There's much I have to say about that destiny. Destiny can wait.  Like history. 

In the meanwhile, here is a picture of the eagle I captured from the Jahangir Mahal at Orchha.

It may be difficult to see the eagle.  Its body merges with the structure of the "temple".  

I zoomed my camera lens.  And the pic is below. 

Is the eagle of Orchha real?

I started writing this blog with the caption "The dumbness of Orchha" and then changed it.  Because I can't express all that I saw in Orchha within a few words.   

Orchha taught me much.  But give me some time to write about it, please.  

In the meanwhile, let me say I turned a bourgeois after reaching Orchha because I couldn't afford to take any risk.  A pic of me in a bourgeois restaurant at Orchha.

Oh me  !
More is to follow.
This is just the beginning. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Pratap got into the old style elevator of the 14-storey building in Connaught Place.  He was going to pay the premium of his Relevance Life Insurance at the office on the 8th floor.  Built during the days of the British Raj, the building which looked quite ghostly had elevators with grille doors.  Pratap drew both the grilles shut and pressed on number 8 on the panel.  As the lift was about to raise itself with a thud, a shabbily dressed man with a grisly beard crept into it through the grille.

“How did you that?” asked Pratap whose rationalism couldn’t accept a solid body making its way through iron bars.

“I am a ghost,” said the fellow traveller.

“Oh, I see.”  Pratap looked at the guy with his rationalist eye and wondered what this phenomenon could be.  E=mc2.  Mass can be converted into energy.  But not this way.  Pratap was still exercising his rational brain when the ghost started sobbing louder than the noise produced by the crawling lift.

“Hey,” said Pratap with the compassion that comes quite naturally to any genuine atheist.  “What’s wrong?  Can I help you?”

“I am a ghost but nobody is frightened of me.  How horrible!”  The ghost sobbed.

“How stupid!” said Pratap.  “You expect Delhiites to be frightened by such melodrama?  We are people who have seen politicians and babas separately and together.  We live with a whole lot of bloggers too, let alone managers and traders.  Who can frighten us anymore?  By the way, why did you become a ghost?”  Pratap was actually trying to find out whether ghosts were indeed real.  His rational mind could never accept ghosts.

The lift had reached the 8th floor.  Pratap put his hand on the ghost’s shoulder and brought him out to the narrow corridor.

“Oh, I was a businessman working for Bill Gates.  Providing software.  Outsourcing of software, you know.  Billy was supposed to be the only producer of billionaires in the 21st century.  Cutthroat competition, you know.  Cut my throat in the end.  I became a software, you know.”

“I love software,” said Pratap still holding the ghost by his shoulder.  “But some software is beyond my understanding.  Anyway, I think I can help you.”

“Yeah, you can,” beamed the ghost.  “Give me a few drops of your blood.  I’m hungry.”

“Don’t be stupid,” said Pratap.  “I have Pepsi here, drink it.”  He took out the Pepsi bottle. 

The ghost’s nose wrinkled.  Forehead wrinkled.  Body wrinkled. 

“Ok, ok,” said Pratap.  “I understand.”

They were already inside the Relevance Insurance office.

“Wait a moment,” said Pratap as he went to the counter to present his cheque.

Having completed his business, Pratap turned around to look for the ghost.  The ghost was sitting inside the office on a chair.

“Bye,” said the ghost.  “I have got a job.”

PS. This is inspired by one of the few ads that I love watching again and again.  There actually is a private Life Insurance office on the 8th floor of an ‘ancient’ building near Connaught Place in Delhi with an ‘ancient’ elevator.  I did meet a ghostly man who had been following me for quite a while when I went to pay my last premium for a policy that I want to cancel but am not able due to the conditions laid in the policy.  He left me when I entered the Insurance office.  The rest is fiction.  Delhi is watchful, I understood.  The man was following me right from the Rajiv Chowk Metro station where I spent some time trying to figure out from the map provided where I should get out to reach my destination easily. 

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