Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Illusions of Sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, was a best seller when it was originally published in Hebrew in Israel.  The English version is released in hardbound form. 

I’m waiting for the paperback edition and will definitely get hold of one as soon as it is available.  Why?  Harari’s ideas are revolutionary, radical and tickling.  Let me focus on one of the main themes.

How did man come to dominate the earth though there were many other more powerful animals on the earth?  As I gather from an article which introduced me to Harari’s book, man created stories which in turn created an immense sense of cooperation among people. 

Let us understand that better.  The other animals don’t create stories.  Man creates stories about many things like gods, nations, money, human rights, etc.  These are all imaginary entities given reality to by man’s stories.  What does the thousand rupee note actually mean without the support of the story created by people about it – stories about the equivalent gold in the Reserve Bank and so on.  What do human rights mean, for example?  One group’s rights are another group’s nuisance.  Who decides the veracity of any of these?

The stories we create attract followers.  People love stories.  Stories unite people.  Stories are imaginative and emotive.  Soon the stories create their own rules.  Those who believe any story follow the rules dictated by the story.  Gods begin to dictate their own rules now.  Money dictates its rules.  A group of people begin to draw a line somewhere and call it the national boundary.  Nationalism is as very charming a story as religious beliefs. 

The other animals who don’t create stories don’t also cooperate the way humans do to get followers for the story and to impose the story on others as the ultimate truth(s).  Moreover, the human brain is far more complex than the brains of the other animals and hence can make the cooperation to seem more necessary, meaningful and purposeful. 

Illusions become absolute truths.  We live for them, fight for them, and may die for them.  That is the human being, a unique animal that sent thousands and thousands of other animals, animals without illusions, into extinction. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Real Power

Mata Amritanandamayi celebrated her birthday yesterday.  India's topmost leader (since PM is away in the States) sought her blessings.

Kerala Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, did not want to be left behind in his own state.

Chandy knows how to smile even when the treasury is empty.  Mata's blessings.

Poor Jayalalithaa.  In spite of all the crores she had amassed and in spite of the additional 'a' in her name attached in obedience to the cosmic laws dictated by spiritual powers.  Prisoner number 7402. Did she miss out somewhere?  Like, she never bent down to touch anybody's feet?  She had an ego bigger than even politician is supposed to have?  Had she begun to see herself as a Mata when there are real Matas elsewhere ruling the roost?

Life is such fun in our days.  Politics is far more entertaining than Bigg Boss :)

Courtesy: All images from today's Malayala Manorama newspaper. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014



Nostalgia is one of the many escape routes for boredom.  People in business know it particularly well because their job keeps them occupied from early morning puja to the god of wealth till late in the night puja to the same god. 

“I’m bored,” said Kamakshi to her husband on a Sunday evening.  Mithun, the husband and businessman, had made sure that his business would not disturb him on Sundays.  But the god of business is no kinder than any other god.  The executives would call on Sundays too to enquire about how to deal with some consumer who complained about some defective product which was sold in one of the many outlets of the Mithun Chain of produces.  If the executives didn’t call up, Mithun would call them up to make sure that no consumer had any complaint.  “I’m bored,” declared Kamakshi during one such call on a Sunday evening.

They were newlywed couples, Kamakshi and Mithun.  She had just turned eighteen and passed class 12 from a reputed public school in Delhi where she had earned a name for herself for sucking some part of a boy’s body which event became a public entertainment on social networking thanks to the boy whose father was the owner of a multinational corporation.  Kamakashi’s father was running a business which was just finding a toehold within the nation, thanks to the new Prime Minister who encourages business.  

“Marriage is the solution,” announced Ganesha after Kamakshi’s father consulted the Pundit.  

Mithun had just inherited business from his father who had fallen ill seriously.  Some capital was all that was needed to continue the business after paying up the bills of the best hospital in the city, the hospital that belonged to a religious sect run by Ganesha Baba.  The dowry solved both the problems.

“OK, darling,” said Mithun when the sun was going to sink in some ocean whose name he could not recollect much as he tried.

The geography teacher of his residential school came to his mind, however. A bald head who carried a comb in his pocket all the time.  With a beautiful wife on whom Mithun had a childish crush.  He had gifted an exotic shawl to his geography teacher the day he left the school.

“A lady’s shawl?” exclaimed Mr Panwar seeing the shawl. 

“My mother brought it from Singapore, sir,” said Mithun.  “Just for your madam.”

“But...” wondered Mr Panwar.  How does his wife have a connection with a student’s mother?  Mrs Panwar was a housewife. 

“Sir,” Mithun was worldly wise enough to clarify, “I asked my mother to bring a gift for my best teacher and she misunderstood that it was a lady teacher...”

The gift was accepted.  Teachers are such fools, thought Mithun. 

“Why not visit my school?”  Mithun asked his bored wife on the Sunday evening when the sun was sinking in an ocean whose name Mithun’s knowledge of geography could not recollect.

“School?” spat out Kamakshi.

“My school,” asserted Mithun like a typical Indian husband.  “My school where memories lie.  Where memories cannot die. Better than the Lodhi Garden.”

“Better than the Lodhi Garden?”  Kamakshi’s memories too began to masticate.  Lodhi Garden is famous for the meeting of lovers.  Romance.  Love.  Greenery in the heart of Delhi.  Where she had spent much time savouring the greenery of life.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Mithun was eloquent in the beginning as he entered Mr Panwar’s residence in the teacher’s quarters of his residential school.  The eloquence soon waned when he noticed that Mrs Panwar was nowhere in sight.  Not even a glass of drinking water?  Mr Panwar was more interested in combing his bald head and talking about the good old days when he was fortunate to have such great students as Mithun. 

Kamakshi was getting bored. 

Mithun’s business executives had given a number of missed calls.

“Sir,” asked Mithun, “can she (pointing at his wife) use your wash room?”

“Why not?” Mr Panwar led the way.  Mithun followed looking here and there.

Mrs Panwar was nowhere on the way.

Having used the toilet of her husband’s teacher, Mithun’s wife was relieved. 

“I’m sorry,” said Mr Panwar when Kamakshi returned from the toilet.  “We didn’t offer you even water.”  He brought water from the fridge and glasses from the kitchen.

Kamakshi’s nose turned upward.  Mr Panwar was too old to notice such upward mobility of noses especially when the face was too beautiful. 

“Take a little just to avoid offence,” murmured Mithun in the ear of his beloved wife.

Kamakshi drank one sip. She was thirsty.  But she wouldn’t drink anything but mineral water supplied by multinational corporations in sealed plastic bottles.  The campus is great, she agreed as her husband drove her back home.  Better than Lodhi Garden.  She had walked around the campus holding her husband’s arm and feeling proud being ogled by young boys before they entered the geography teacher’s boring residence.  It was a nice picnic.

“Why didn’t you show your face, dear?” demanded Mr Panwar of his wife when the student with the beautiful wife had left. 

“Didn’t you know that I had just applied dye to my hair?”

Somewhere in a wardrobe an exotic shawl was wasting itself.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Modi Fiction

Book Review

The Fiction of Fact-finding
Author: Manoj Mitta
Publisher: HarperCollins, India
Pages: 259,  Printed price: Rs. 350

“Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through,” wrote Jonathan Swift three centuries ago.  Our jails are full of petty thieves and proxy prisoners.  The wasps and hornets establish business empires or occupy political thrones. A few are worshipped as gurus and godmen. Some go on to become historical heroes.

In his classical work, Civilizations, historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto says that “Heroes do not make history but history makes heroes.”  Hitler would not have become a hero for the Germans unless the economic hardships of the time had not conspired against the German Jews who were relatively better off.  The Jews became a convenient enemy for a people who needed a scapegoat to carry away all their grief and sins.

Seven decades later Hitler’s experiment was replicated in Gujarat on a smaller scale but with remarkable success.  The man who cloned the historical episode obtained his lucky opportunity when some Muslims attacked a group of Ayodhya kar sevaks in Godhra.  The history of the country took a dramatic turn from that day.  In the days that followed the Godhra episode a few hundred Muslims were killed in Gujarat, hundreds were thrown out of their homes, and their women were raped/killed.  The Supreme Court of India would later write about the incident: “The modern-day Neros were looking elsewhere when innocent children and helpless women were burning and probably deliberating how the perpetrators can (sic) be protected.”

The Gujarat state police and Special Investigation Team which was set up to identify the culprits failed to do their jobs.  Manoj Mitta’s book is about those failures.  He gives a detailed account of how Narendra Modi subverted the entire system of politics and judiciary in order to help the culprits escape. 

The book shows how a charismatic leader can rewrite an entire history even after the events took place and people know the truth.  Public memory is brief and facile.  It forgets thing quickly, especially those things which are not convenient to remember.  Modi rewrote the entire history of the communal violence that rocked his state.  One of the first things he did after the tremors settled down was to demand an early election so that he could reap the dividends before the public memory might conveniently forget what he did not want it to forget.  When the Election Commissioner, J M Lyngdoh, refused to grant Modi’s demand, Modi formulated the script for his historical drama, “Someone asked me, has Lyngdoh come from Italy?  I said we would need to ask Rajiv Gandhi.  Some asked, is he a relation of Sonia Gandhi?  I said, perhaps they meet in church.”

Mitta’s book shows how Modi created a perceived enemy out of every non-Hindu in India so that the Hindus in the state would visualise their Messiah in him.  His bigger game plan was to project himself as the Messiah of the Hindus in the entire country and not just the state of Gujarat.  The book implies that he succeeded in achieving his goal.  

Modi’s exercise on the last Teacher’s Day was a step ahead.  He was roping in the impressionable young minds in ways that would have left Machiavelli and Chanakya baffled.

Those who were following the Gujarat violence and its aftermath in the media may not find anything new in Mtta’s book.  But the book is necessary since most of us tend or like to forget many things conveniently.  The book is a necessary reminder that our idols may be stuffed with straw in places where pulses are required.  The book is a reminder that the fiction written by Salman Rushdies may be truer than much written discourse in history.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It’s in our stars

Mohan squarely put all the blame on the stars and planets for Dileep’s failures in business.  “Because Saturn is in line with Scorpio...” he mentioned a number of planets and constellations whose relative positions in the outer space allegedly caused the downfall in Dileep’s business.

Mohan, Dileep and I were classmates in the village primary school.  After the primary school we parted ways.  I went on to study in the city and eventually became a teacher.  Mohan dropped out of college and became an insurance agent.  He picked up some astrology from somewhere and used that knowledge to determine the ideal positions of buildings.  Vastu, people call it.  Mohan also claimed he could predict people’s future using astrology.  Dileep didn’t study much beyond the primary school and eventually took over his father’s shop in the village.

It was during one of my rare holidays in the village that Mohan and I visited Dileep in his shop.  There were many indications that Dileep wasn’t doing well: the building looked dilapidated, there weren’t very many items on the racks, and everything looked too shabby to attract customers.

Mohan’s Saturn and Scorpio seemed to boost up Dileep’s spirit and so I kept quiet.  It’s only when we came out of the shop and were walking along the almost deserted village road I asked Mohan, “Do you really think the stars and planets have anything to do with it all?”

“Well,” that’s all what he said.

“There are some 400 billion stars in our Milky Way alone,” I said.  “There are at least 170 billion galaxies each of which may have a similar number of stars.  They may all have planets and satellites just like our solar system.  That’s billions and billions of heavenly bodies.  Infinity.  That’s what the universe is.  It has its own rules and regulations.  Gravity and things like that.  But to assume that they afflict our poor Dileep’s tiny shop with their pulls and pushes is taking our infinitesimal ego a little too far into infinity.”

“Is your lecture over?” asked Mohan.

I stared at him.  “How many people in our village will understand anything of what you said?  How many can think beyond thousands, forget your billions and billions, let alone infinity.  Did you notice how Dileep’s face lit up when I put the entire blame on some stars and planets?  I gave him hope.  Now I’ll give him an action plan.  Some rituals and prayers.  Actually, these rituals and prayers are nothing.  They can’t affect any star or planet.  Nothing changes out there.  But many changes occur in Dileep’s mind.  He will think that the evil influences are leaving him.  He will begin to work with new enthusiasm.  Some changes in the shop.  New painting, new shelves, new articles... a new spirit.”

A few months later when I visited the village Dileep was doing much better.  The stars can make a difference!

Saturday, September 20, 2014



Nebamun was determined and nothing could deter him now.  Now was his opportunity.  Antony had gone back to Rome being summoned by Caesar.  Cleopatra would be alone.  Nebamun could offer her his heart.  Offer his heart to the goddess of love whom age cannot wither or custom cannot stale – that was how one of Antony’s commanders described her the other day. 

Let her trample upon his heart if she so chooses.  Nebamun was the devotee and Cleopatra was the goddess.  The goddess can choose what to do with the devotee and it is the bounden duty of the devotee to obey, to make whatever sacrifice the goddess demands.

He stood outside Cleopatra’s royal chamber waiting until she came out.

“Your Majesty,” Nebamun drew Cleopatra’s attention when she was about to pass him by as if he never existed.  Queens don’t pay attention to ordinary soldiers even if they stand in places where they are not expected.

“Yes,” said Cleopatra staring at him.  “What do you want?  Why are you standing here outside my chamber?”

“I wish to speak to you alone,” said Nebamun.

“What about?”

“My heart’s deepest desire.  A devotee’s most fervent prayer.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are my goddess, Your Majesty.  I am your devotee standing before you with a supplication.  Be merciful enough to grand my wish.”

Cleopatra stared into his eyes before ordering her maids to leave them alone.

“What is your wish?”

“I have been worshipping you with my whole heart and soul.  Please grant my wish to worship you with my body.”

Cleopatra was too stunned to decide whether to flare up or laugh out.

“How dare you?  This is intolerable audacity!”

“You call it audacity, Your Majesty, but I call it worship.  I’m your devotee; you’re my goddess.”

Their eyes met again.  Determination and devotion were overflowing in Nebamun’s gaze.  His body language was a queer mixture of those of a soldier’s and devotee’s.  A unique combination.  A rare lover.  Cleopatra’s eyes began to sparkle with mischief.

“I will grant your wish,” she said to Nebamun whose heart skipped a beat.  “But on a condition.”

What do conditions matter to a devotee?  Nebamun waited eagerly.

“You won’t live to see the next morning.”

What does the next morning matter to a devotee? 

Cleopatra’s chamber opened itself to Nebamun that night.

There was a strange shade of crimson in the sky when the sun rose the next morning from the Red Sea.  The executioner reported that Nebamun died without an iota of regret.  “Rather,” said the executioner, “I have never met a man who seemed more contented than that.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Brief History of China

In one of his Odes, the Roman poet Horace portrays Maecenas, Roman statesman, as wondering what the Chinese were up to.  Horace lived in the first century BCE.  He was exaggerating when he wrote that; he was trying to please his patron by depicting him as someone whose concerns extended far and wide.  But, with hindsight today, we can say that Horace’s line was not sheer hollow flattery.

Some 200 years before Horace, Shih Huang-ti, who was called – or called himself –  ‘the First Emperor of China,’ employed 700,000 labourers to build the humungous Great Wall of China by linking the many existing fortifications.  He also constructed a huge network of roads and canals paving the material foundations of a great civilisation.

Shih Huang-ti was a barbarian conqueror, however.  He was illiterate and was despised by his literate subjects.  His dynasty failed eventually.  His renown became equivocal.  But the Great Wall caused him to be revered as the founder of China.

Many dynasties came and went in China.  But the country remained steadfast in its basic culture and civilisation.  It flourished in spite of its torrid summers and icy winters.  In spite of the intractable mountains and the ‘sorrow-inundating’ Yellow River. 

It flourished and expanded to become the largest population in the world, a population whose size surpasses the populations of the entire Europe and North America combined.  It flourished by both spreading its culture and conquering people. 

In the words of historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, “Most of the people who have adopted Chinese culture were not originally Chinese but have come to think of themselves as such.  In the course of centuries of borrowing and imitating Chinese ways, Fukienese, Miao, Nosu, Hakka and many others have disappeared into the majority.  It was not a cost-free process: it involved cultural immolation.  Today’s minorities – Muslim, Macanese, Tibetan and the cosmopolitan sophisticates of Hong Kong – feel threatened by this powerfully homogenizing history.” [Civilizations; emphases added]

No force in history succeeded in overpowering the Chinese civilisation.  For example, the White Lotus movement proclaimed a fanatical kind of Buddhism in the 14th century only to abandon the objective once the leaders won power.  The Taiping revolutionaries of the 19th century borrowed their key notions from Christianity, but their influence disappeared with their subsequent defeat.

In the 20th century, Mao Tse-tung’s revolution claimed to be based on Marxism.  Mao even called for the books of Confucius to be burnt.  But 30 years after that revolution, Marxism was abandoned and Confucius continues to shape Chinese civilisation and its values.

Even the foreign invaders who vanquished the Chinese armies ended up succumbing to the superiority of the civilisation of the vanquished.  The barbarian neighbours of the Sung dynasty, the Mongol conquerors of the 13th century and the Manchu in the 17th century are examples. 

Chinas continues to lead.  In the 20th century, it re-annexed Tibet, invaded Korea, re-acquired Hong Kong and Macao and has a number of active border disputes with neighbours including India. China has imposed a kind of economic imperialism in Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.  

With new ties being forged between the supposedly old friends (Hindi-Chini, bhai-bhai), what kind of cultural footprints will China leave in India?

Today the visiting Chinese President has promised India an investment of Rs120,000 crore over the next five years.  Will India become an economic colony of China is a matter that is best left to the future to show since we now live in ‘a global village’ with ‘open borders,’ however selective the openness in reality is.

Two of my earlier posts on China:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Caliph of Two Worlds

Historical Fiction

His smile could quell a mob or raise an army.  The charismatic Usman dan Fodio was a holy man whom the Sultan of Gobir (today’s Nigeria) brought into his kingdom in order to make the people more religious.  Bringing a religious person too close to your life can be like taking the snake lying on the fence and putting it in your pocket.  At least that’s how it turned out to be in the case of Yunfa, the Sultan of Gobir.

William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had just brought out their Romantic Manifesto, The Lyrical Ballads, ushering a poetic revolution in England.  The bloodcurdling violence of the French Revolution had given birth to a whole series of reforms implemented by Napoleon.  In Africa, Allah was beginning to bring light in quite another way.

“There is no God but Allah,” Usman’s voice reverberated in the streets and highways.  “All ways are impure except those shown by Allah.”  Usman denounced the ways of the ordinary people as evil.  Suddenly almost everything became evil for the ordinary people.  Usman decided what was holy and what unholy.  Usman decided when people could smile and whey they should weep.  Usman decided what they could eat and drink.  Usman became the law.  “All laws come from Allah,” Usman declared.

“Allah appeared to me in a dream,” he told the people.  “All the prophets of the past stood on either side of Allah.  And Allah told me, ‘I anoint you as the Messiah of Africa. You are the forerunner of the Mahdi, who is coming soon along with Jesus to initiate the cosmic struggle against the Antichrist.  The end of the world is near.  Teach your people to repent and turn to Allah if they are to be redeemed on the Day of the Judgment.’”

Gods of all hues exercise a strange charm on people of every country.  And the prophets of the gods are like the pied piper whom people follow abandoning everything else. 

The Sultan was not very pleased by this usurpation.  Who is more powerful: the sultan or the maulana?  The answer depends on who you are or on whose side you are.

Sometimes the maulana has to be got rid of if the sultan is to save his throne.  The sultan began his conspiracies.  An earthly king’s conspiracies may not be powerful enough to eliminate a god’s representative. 

The maulana became the commander of an army.  The religious followers became political warriors.  The line between politics and religion is an illusion that can be shifted in any direction as required by the occasion. 

“Win the war,” Usman told his warriors, “and you will get seven towns filled with dark-eyed maidens each one of whom being served by ten thousand slaves.  Win the war and you will embrace those dark-eyed beauties for seventy years.  You will do it again and again until you are tired.  You will have no other work, save the play of delight.”

Usman’s warriors stood erect with their swords unsheathed.  They were intoxicated with both spiritual and temporal lust. Armed with such intoxication,
it didn’t take much time for Usman to decapitate the sultan.  Usman the holy man became Usman the Caliph. 

The successful warriors demanded the promised dark-eyed maidens and seventy years of delight.  The Caliph became the holy man once again, “Wait, children, wait.  The final reward is in heaven.  Wait until your time.”

They waited.  People always wait.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ibn Battuta’s Blind Guide

My blindness will cost you more
than the sight of the other guides,
said the eyeless man to Ibn Battuta, me.

I started this journey as a pilgrimage,
the Hajj that ensures the soul the bliss of Paradise.
But Paradise is here, on the earth,
I learnt as I travelled through Dar al-Islam.
Mountains and valleys, rivers and deserts,
The birds that fly and the snakes that crawl,
The infinite variety of hypnotic women
Whose men are grappling with fate
In the torrid ruggedness of their life.

Sight is a curse, said my blind guide,
in the desert where a wind can shift a mountain.
The sand dune you see now is a valley after a storm.
Trust not your eyes in the land of illusions.
Trust not your ears in the land whose air
echoes the songs of spirits and calls of phantoms.
Trust not your senses in the land of
Ostriches that bury their sight in sand.
Trust me,
I’m the blind man of the desert
whose heart beats with insights;
I’m the blind man who sees more than the senses do. 

Note: Ibn Battuta was a 14th century traveller. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


“I knew you would come to deliver me from my stony existence,” Ahalya said touching Rama’s feet.

“I’m just a means,” Rama said with an understanding smile.  “Deliverance is one’s own choice, not given by somebody else.”

“But your touch sent grace flowing through my being.  I could feel it.  I felt the stone within me melting away.  The lightness of my being now brings me bliss untold.”

Ahalya - a Ravi Varma painting
Ahalya was living in a granite cave ever since the intercourse she had had with Indra, the lord of svargaloka.  Gods can transform your life in either way, she realised.  Here is a god who liberated her from the monolith that weighed down her consciousness, a monolith that was put there in her consciousness by another god.

She had become a monolith after Indra visited her that day when her husband, Sage Gautama, old man with wrinkled skin and matted hair, had gone to fetch the materials required for his religious oblations.  Indra looked like Gautama; he had disguised himself as Gautama.  Gautama without wrinkles.  Gautama whose hair was more scented than matted.  Gautama whose eyes exuded the intoxication of lust. 

Ahalya felt her youth moistening and longing for intoxication.  She succumbed to the temptation pretending that the man who was doing it was indeed her husband. 

When the disguised Indra left having satiated his lust, the real Gautama stood before Ahalya whose body was still recovering from the tremors it had experienced. 

“I thought it was you,” she said sheepishly to her husband.

Rage flared in Gautama’s eyes.  No mother mistakes her offspring whatever disguise they may come wearing.  No woman mistakes any disguise for her husband.  Disguises are our conscious choices, thundered Gautama.  I curse you for this.

“Curses are our conscious choices, so is grace,” said Rama.  Every error is an invitation to see our reality better, to realise where our consciousness is and where it can be.  When we refuse to reach out to the potential of our consciousness, a curse befalls us. 

Yes, I refused to reach out..., reflected Ahalya.  I failed to stand up to my conscience.  I deluded myself.

All curses are self-delusions, she thought Rama was saying.  Every deliverance is a perception and an acceptance of truth.  One’s own truth.  Truth cannot be anyone else’s.

Rama was walking away.  In his consciousness was arising a flame, a flame that would test the truth of another woman in a few years to come, the woman most beloved to him, the woman most chaste... the woman whom he would have to consign to a fire test for the sake of delusions.  Endless human delusions. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Power and Prejudice

India is governed by a political party which draws its sustenance from the Us-Them divisiveness.  From the infamous Gujarat riots onwards, India witnessed about 7000 incidents of communal violence engendered by the Us-Them thinking.

The Us-Them thinking is as old as known human history.  Every people always loved to make some distinctions between themselves and the perceived others.  Look at our movies and you will see how people belonging to other cultures or speaking other languages are made to look like either fools or villains. 

Such division achieves many purposes at the same time.  One, it enhances our own sense of identity.  Our group identity becomes stronger when the rival group is portrayed as weak, illiterate, villainous, etc.  Two, it tilts the struggle for the limited resources in our favour.  We turn the tables so that the resources will fall to our side.  Three, it prepares the members of the community to fight against perceived threats from the others.  Four, Our self-esteem is enhanced.  Denigration of the other is elevation of the self.

India is a country with 1600 languages, 3000 communities differentiated by castes and jatis, 350 tribes and 8 major religions (4 of which originated in the country itself).  Is it advisable to flatten all those differences with one hammer blow as Mohan Bhagwat is trying to do by claiming that every Indian should accept one particular brand name?  Is it advisable to spread communal passions as Yogi Adityanath is doing in UP? 

Now that the party is already securely ensconced on the throne in Indraprastha, it would be advisable for it to draw its sustenance from something other than hatred and conflicts.  The party should rein in people like Yogi Adityanath who make provocative statements every now and then.

Prejudices are too deeply entrenched to be removed even by political power.  Psychologist Gordon Allport illustrated the Western prejudice with the following anecdote.  Some white men travelling through Rhodesia saw a group of native people idling away time.  “Lazy brutes,” remarked the white men.  As they drove on they saw another group of native men carrying on their backs grain bags weighing 100 kg each.  “Savages!  See how much load they can carry!” was the white men’s remark. 

Some prejudices in India are getting more and more deeply entrenched in the country’s majority psyche, and new ones are being created.  Deification of a leader and then using him as the reason for creating and propagating prejudices and hatred can be disastrous for a country like India. 

If we want to foster harmony among different people, they have to be encouraged to come together in closer contacts, given equal status, encouraged to work for common goals requiring cooperation, and be supported by broader social norms.  What many emerging leaders are doing is just the opposite.  Hitler had given rise to a lot of such leaders and eventually the history of the world acquired much red colour. 

A very interesting link related to the last point: Sikh24

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Those Pricey Netas

Some three or four years ago, a former student of mine who was then a budding leader of a national political party, told me that he could “sell” me a party ticket for Rs 5 crore.  The sum astounded me.  “It’s nothing, sir,” he reassured me, “I’ll teach you how to get that amount back in a month’s time once you win the election.”

When I heard Aam Aadmi Party’s lament that the BJP was trying to buy its MLA for Rs 4 crore, it didn’t surprise me.  If people are ready to buy party tickets before the election for crores of rupees, the neta’s price after winning the election should be a double digit crore.  Four crore is rather cheap, I think, for a sitting MLA.  Is that why AAP decided to cry foul?

Delhi BJP vice president, Sher Singh Dagar, reacted very formulaically.  “If it is proved I’ll not only resign from the party, but from politics itself,” he said.  Every neta worth his sodium chloride knows how to plug any hole with darkness.  If you are not a master of darkness, you can’t be a neta, in the first place.  Once you become a neta, you will find it painful to come out into sunshine.  The air-conditioned comfort of the dark halls and alleys will make light unbearable.

Once you’re used to those halls and alleys, whenever any challenge is levelled against you ,you can boldly place your palm on your heart and swear that you would quit politics if the charge is ever proved.  You know it won’t be proved.  That is the art of plugging holes with darkness.  Such plugs are costly, though.  In politics everything is costly, except the citizen who votes each time hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Teacher was very fond of parrots.  They keep repeating A, B, C... And when they grow up they repeat s = ut + ½ at2 or sin2 Ɵ+ cos2 Ɵ = 1.  When they grow up more they keep repeating “Yes, sir; Yes, madam.”  That’s why Teacher decided to take over the caged parrot from his cousin who was leaving the village to settle down in one of the posh apartments in Delhi.   The cousin had just won the Lok Sabha bye-election. Teacher was not characteristically ignorant and so he knew that keeping birds in cages was against the law.  Love does not follow laws, however.

Teacher was very upset when Parrot spoke.  It did not speak the formulas.  Instead it uttered expletives. 

Teacher decided to teach Parrot.  “A, B, C...” Parrot said, “AAP, BJP, Congress...”  As if that were not enough, Parrot added some expletive to each word it uttered.

Teacher presented the problem to Counsellor.  Every school must have a counsellor, according to CBSE, so that students learn formulas right and become doctors and engineers.  Otherwise they may become politicians.

“A serious problem, sir,” agreed Counsellor.  “Let us try behavioural therapy.  Deny Parrot food until he repeats A, B, C, and give Parrot Shahi Paneer when he repeats A, B, C.”

It worked.  Parrot learnt to repeat A, B, C.  But the problem was after getting Shahi Paneer Parrot would utter expletives more vigorously than it ever did.

“Try cognitive therapy,” counselled Counsellor.  Since Parrot was brought up by Politician, its attitudes must be reformed.  Cognitive therapy changes attitudes.  Explain to Parrot why its attitudes are wrong and which attitudes are right and how wrong attitudes distort perception and wrong perception distorts truth.

“Truth is you are a terrorist,” said Parrot when Teacher explained attitudes, perception and truth.  “I’ll get you killed in a fake encounter.”  And the usual expletives followed.

“Parrot knows the supreme formulas,” concluded Counsellor.  No therapy required.

Teacher fulminated against the formulas outside the syllabus.  He grabbed Parrot, walked into the kitchen, opened the freezer of the fridge and said, “Traditional therapy for you.”

1, 2, 3 ... Teacher counted the seconds.  He knew the formula of how much time a parrot of a particular body mass could stay inside a freezer under its normal temperature and pressure given the velocity and acceleration of the parrot’s wing flapping in a given volume of space.

“I’m sorry,” said Parrot when Teacher liberated it from the freezer.  “I won’t repeat my fu..ing mistakes.  But tell me, what did the chicken do?”

[Note: Not an original story of mine.  Adapted from one I read somewhere some time.]

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Happy Onam

There has been no human society which did not have some myths and rituals.  Myths and rituals are a kind of psychological defence mechanisms.  Onam, Kerala’s most celebrated festival, revolves round the myth of a primitive king, Mahabali (more affectionately called ‘Maveli’), during whose reign there was no evil in the kingdom.  A kingdom without evil is a fascinating myth.  The associated rituals are meant to bring people closer to one another and to the environment.  Onam stresses on social functions and art performances as well as floral decorations. 

But the traditional ways of celebrating the festival have been replaced with modern ways dominated by new rituals.  The high priests of the new rituals are traders of different shades, ranging from the unavoidable supermarket to the redundant jeweller, from the film industry to the television channels. 

Onam is no more about equality and fraternity, goodness and generosity.  It is about shopping and entertainment. 

While there is nothing wrong about shopping or entertainment, there is much harm in redefining certain rituals.  The original rituals of Onam reinforced relationships among people as well as between people and nature.  Children went around gathering flowers from wherever flowers could be plucked.  In the process they merged into the nature.  They also met and spoke to the owners of the lands from where they collected the flowers.  The adults came together to participate in or to be spectators of the various events and performances related to the festival.  Flowers are now bought from the market and that too not for making the traditional floral carpet for Maveli but for participating in a floral carpet competition with substantial prizes.  Entertainments are brought home by the TV channels; or at best the family makes it to the nearest mall where people ineluctably remain strangers.  

What remains is the nostalgia conjured up by the traditional songs and dances telecast on the channels.  The nostalgia gives us a longing for the good old days.  But we know they won’t return.  We don’t want them to return, really.  It is impossible to give up our gadgets and luxury.  It is impossible to be generous to the needy neighbour.  It is impossible to be good. 

So we shall be content with the old myth of Onam and its new rituals.  Happy Onam!

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...