Friday, October 31, 2014

Under the Peepal

It was years since I had met Siddhartha.  When I heard that he was sitting under a peepal awaiting enlightenment, I was curious.  I embarked on the metro train that would take me near to Kapil Vastu Estate.

Kapil Vastu Estate was a huge complex developed by Siddhartha’s father, Shuddhodhana Gautama, one of the most successful industrialists of neoliberal Hindustan.  “Profit is the dharma of the trader,” was Shuddhodhana’s motto.  He had graduated from the London School of Economics before doing MBA from Harvard University. 

Siddhartha and I were classmates.  Not that my father could afford to send me to the same public school as Siddhartha.  Since my father was Shuddhodhana’s personal assistant and a close confidante, the business magnate decided to put me in the same school as his own son.  Probably, it was his way of monitoring his son indirectly. 

Siddhartha showed little interest in academics or co-curricular or extra-curricular activities.  He came and went back by a chauffeur-driven air-conditioned car.  The school was centrally air-conditioned.  Siddhartha didn’t have to see the world outside.  But he longed to see it, I think.

Shuddhodhana was alarmed by his son’s increasing melancholy contemplativeness.  He decided to do some cleaning up.  Starting with the library, he removed all serious literature and filled the shelves with books of Sidney Sheldon and his Hindustani avatar, Chetan Bhagat, as well as other such stimulating writers.  “Burn all the books by intellectuals and subversives,” ordered Shuddhodhana.  “Bring in our classics like Kamasutra and Arthasastra.” 

Nothing worked.  Neither the ancient classics nor the ultramodern metro reads stimulated Siddhartha’s soul.  It hankered after something that all the fabulous wealth of his father could not buy. 

In the meanwhile, I completed my post-graduation and teacher training and became a teacher in a fully residential school which occupied me body and soul round the clock.  I was not aware of what was transpiring in the walled world of Kapil Vastu Estate.  But when the news of Siddhartha’s contemplation under the peepal tree reached me, I applied for a casual leave from school and rushed to meet my old mate, son of my benefactor.

The ten feet massive steel gate opened before me.  I still had some contacts with people inside, you see.

“There is death, I learnt,” Siddhartha told me.  “Human life is wretched.  There is illness.  There is much evil. The air-conditioning is an illusion.  The Estate is an illusion.”  He went on to give me a long lecture.  All desire is evil, he said.  He was going to found a new religion, he said, to help people overcome desires.  Live without desires and attain nirvana.

“Can you arrange one nirvana for me free of cost?”  I asked.  After all, I was his closest friend at school.   He could do me this simple favour.   It was then I noticed the book lying near Siddhartha’s meditation mat. 

“What’s this?”  I was stunned.  “You’re reading Dostoevsky?”  I picked up The Idiot.  “This is as outdated as Das Capital by those two nuts.”

Sitting under the peepal tree with Siddhartha Gautama, I became enlightened.  Nirvana is living out of joint with time. 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Religion is not necessarily idiotic

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has declared that the Big Bang theory and his religion are not in conflict with each other.  The Bible is fiction. 

The Bible is scripture.  It is not meant to teach science.  As Galileo put it beautifully, “The Bible teaches how to go to heaven, science teaches how the heavens go.”

Even the religious fundamentalists are interested in how the heavens go rather than how to go to heaven.  Even they know that there is no heaven.  

All that religions have been doing so far is to manipulate.  So that they have power.  Power.  No exceptions. 

Exceptions became extinct.  Or evolved.  And gained power.  Or are begging/fighting for power.  

When power rules, humanity dies.  Because power belongs to the animals. ‘ Might is right’ is the law of the jungle.

Religion originated as a quest.  A search for the beyond.  What could not be understood was labelled as god or demon. 

Do we need that sort of search anymore?  Don’t we have a better tool in science?

Science has its drawbacks and limitations.  Yet isn’t it the best tool that we today have?

Can’t we keep our scriptures and epics in our libraries and become human?

Religion need not be necessarily idiotic.  I love Pope Francis for saying that.  Of course, I have paraphrased him.  He will forgive me, I know.  He is not an idiot.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I am Malala

Book Review

“Our country was going crazy.  How was it possible that we were now garlanding murderers?”  (174)*  Malala Yousafzai’s autobiographical book, I am Malala, is the story of how her beloved Swat Valley was overtaken by a bunch of murderers who considered themselves religious reformists.  It is also the story of the Talibanisation of Pakistan in general and the failure of the Pakistani government in dealing with the problem.

The book is an eloquent illustration of two conflicting attitudes towards religion: one which tries to understand it rationally and use it for improving the society and the other which wields it as a weapon for oppressing people with the objective of keeping them under its all-pervasive power.

As a very young girl Malala started questioning certain aspects of her religion.  Denial of education as well as many other rights to girls and subjugation of women in general were things that she found highly discriminatory and unjust.  She was fortunate to have a father who made her see the reality from a higher perspective.  “I will protect your freedom, Malala,” her father assured her time and again.  “Carry on with your dreams.”  (55)

Malala dreamt.  She dared to dream.  Her dreams went against the interests of her religion, at least as it was practised in her country.  Before the Taliban entered the Swat Valley the dreams would not have invited so much wrath.  The majority of people don’t think for themselves; they accept the truths imposed on them by people who are seen as leaders.  Most of the religious leaders in Swat would have accepted girls’ education at least without grudge.  That’s why Malala’s father was able to set up a school for girls too.  But the entry of the Taliban turned Malala’s world upside down. 

Malala dared to fight for her dreams.  She wrote blogs.  She gave interviews to the media.  She spoke in public.  Her efforts won international attention and she received many awards.  But all that attention made her a target of a gruesome attack.  The book is the story of all that.

The beauty of the book lies in the fact that it is written by a young girl who sees the world with all the innocence of a child.  There is no bitterness or cynicism that would have affected an adult who went through what Malala did.  You are likely to get engrossed in the pages as if the book were a thriller.  The narrative has a magic about it.

Even when Malala wonders why her political leaders don’t do anything to improve the life of the people, the innocence is palpable.  “What’s stopping each and every politician from doing good things?”  She asked her father.  “Why would they not want our people to be safe, to have food and electricity?”  (168)

Towards the end of the book, when Malala is recovering from the effects of the brutal attack after the treatment she received in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham she will begin to realise that life isn’t as lucid as a child’s dream.  Well, one has to outgrow one’s innocent dreams.  But the dreams can be sustained at the adult level in a different way.  The book ends with the promise that Malala will continue to dream and work hard to materialise her dreams.

I enjoyed reading the book, every page of it.  It did make some difference in the way I viewed Pakistan and its problems.  As I turned the last page the thought that rose uppermost in my mind was why would the people of Kashmir ever want to be part of a country like Pakistan whose people have not been able to find peace among themselves.  The Sunnis and the Shias can’t love one another.  The Sunnis (majority of the population) are divided again into many groups.  There are the Barelvis, Deobandi, and Ahl-e-Hadith.  “Each of these strands has many different subgroups,” says Malala (76).  There is not much love lost between any two of these sects.  Nor is the relationship among the regions (Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and the Pashtun realms) enviable in any way.  What peace will the people of Kashmir find in such a country?  Pakistan is a country where people lose their smiles. 

The book is also about the hopes and dreams of bringing smiles back to that country.  The book deserves to be read.

* All page numbers refer to the Hachette India paperback edition (2013) of the book. 

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Underworld of Car Owners

The political leaders in Delhi are driving the cars of their citizens underground.  Civic Centre on Minto Road is an imposing tower complex that overlooks both Old and New Delhi.  It houses the Municipal Corporations of Delhi, both Old and New.  If you are an ordinary citizen, even if you are driving the costliest car you can afford, you will be asked to park your precious vehicle underground.  All overground parking space is meant for the politicians and their cronies.  Even SUVs bearing an inscription somewhere on or near its number plate claiming allegiance to some politician will get access to the overground parking space.  All the rest will go snaking down to the pit below.

In 1895, H G Wells wrote a novel titled The Time Machine in which the author imagined the future of the capitalist world as divided between the Eloi and the Morlocks, people overground and underground.  The Eloi were the capitalists whose vision was grant enough to send all industries and their working class underground.  Let labour and its polluting waste stay away underground.  The earth is meant for the lords. 

The earth was always meant for the lords.  Look back into history of any country, if you don’t believe me.  Leave out a few exceptions where some kind of socialism (oh, that obnoxious word) was practised.

History can only be repeated because the human species has reached the end of its imagination for putting an end to nauseating repetitions.   History can only be repeated because the human species is driven by the gene of greed primarily.  When history failed to repeat itself, it was when the gene of adventure dominated in some adventurer who wished to see or experience something new.  So Africa was discovered, for example.  And then followed the normal human gene labelling the continent “Dark”.   In the name of the light of progress and development, the continent was subjected to all kinds of plundering.  History repeated itself.

History will continue to repeat itself.  More and more people will be driven underground even without their realising it.  They think they are lucky to get parking space in a crowded city like Delhi, even if it is underground.  All normal human beings consider themselves “lucky” or “fortunate” or “blessed” (by Gods or godmen/godwomen or some spiritual entity) and accept their underworld existence as part of the fortune.  And the rulers continue to conquer the open spaces on the planet.  Conquer the outer spaces.  Conquer the heavens.  And gods are born.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014



“Which topi did you buy?”  She asked while her fingers flew with supersonic speed on the virtual keypad of the smartphone commenting on the selfies posted by her countless friends on Facebook.

“Your favourite brand,” he said indifferently.  He was busy with the selfie videos posted by his other girlfriends on Whatsapp.  He couldn’t remember which her favourite brand was.  It doesn’t matter, he knew.  She was not likely to notice it.  What does the brand name of an artificial skin matter when the bliss experienced by real skins explodes like a neural bomb in the brain making it oblivious to everything else?  He knew girls well enough to understand that their brand choices were only ways of inflating their already overblown egos. 

“Hey, look here,” she said.  “Our PM has sent a selfie after casting his vote.”

“He is our leader,” he said without looking at what she was playing with.  He was busy with his own selfie messages on Whatsapp.  But he added, “The leader of selfies.”

“When are you taking me to dinner?” another girlfriend was enquiring after sending him a beautiful selfie video of hers.

“2moro, darlin,” he punched in his response quickly.  “bzy 2dy.”

And he clicked his latest selfie and sent it to her.

“Shall we go?” he asked switching from the virtual to the real.

“Oh, yeah.”  She said.  “Just a moment.”  She clicked a selfie and enriched the Facebook with it.  “Ready,” she sounded contented.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Day After

The burnt-out parts of crackers and fireworks
Lay scattered in the yard and road and wherever the eye could reach.
The festival is over.
The intoxication lingered a while.
And that died out too.
Leaving an aftertaste somewhere in the hollows within,
Sweet and bitter, bitterness competing with sweetness.

The sound and fury of the fireworks on the ground and in the heaven
Repeated the same old tales, wise or idiotic – who knows?  Who cares?
Dazzling lights strutted and fretted
Their hour upon the stage
Leaving distorted and gaping fragments behind.

The fragments will be swept into the dustbins of Swachh Bharat
Maybe the next time the Great Actor drives us to the broom store
Or maybe they will be carried away by the winds of time
That blow relentlessly
And mercilessly
Erasing the markings we make on dust.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reconnecting history in Malala’s land

When the voice of truth rises from the minarets,
The Buddha smiles,
And the broken chain of history reconnects.

The lines are from the poem, The Relics of Butkara, written by Malala’s father and quoted by her in her autobiography, I am Malala.  I’m still reading the book and found this passage about Butkara, her birthplace, interesting.

“Our Butkara ruins were a magical place to play hide and seek,” she writes.  They were relics from the days when Buddhism was practised by the people of the place.  In other words, Malala’s forefathers must have been Buddhists.  The people who are now Muslims have a Buddhist ancestry.  It is that reconnection that Malala’s father speaks about in his poem. 

“Islam came to our valley (Swat) in the eleventh century when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni invaded from Afghanistan and became our ruler, but in ancient times Swat was a Buddhist kingdom,” writes Malala.  “The Buddhists had arrived here in the second century and their kings ruled the valley for more than 500 years.  Chinese explorers wrote stories of how there were 1,400 Buddhist monasteries along the banks of the River Swat, and the magical sound of temple bells would ring out across the valley.  The temples are long gone, but almost anywhere you go in Swat, amid all the primroses and other wild flowers, you find their remains.  We would often picnic among rock carvings of a smiling fat Buddha sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower.  There were many stories that Lord Buddha himself came here because it is a place of such peace, and some of his ashes are said to be buried in the valley in a giant stupa.”

The land of that smiling Buddha who advocated peace and simplicity of heart today resounds with booms of guns wielded mercilessly by religious terrorists.  If only the terrorists realised that their forefathers belonged to a different religion altogether.  If only they realised that their religion was imposed on them by a conqueror from beyond the borders.  Would they then still want to kill for that religion?

If only we all understand that religion is a mere ‘accident’, a chance event, that happened to us some time in history due to certain necessities or fortuitous occurrences.  There may be no violence in the name of religion at least.  And much violence in the world occurs in the name of religion, directly or indirectly.

If only we could reconnect some broken chains of history.  The world would be a much happier place.

Wish you all a Happy Diwali filled with the light of awareness, enlightenment. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Diwali

Light amid darkness
Some light
Dark holes

Priests Politicians Patriarchs

Crackers and NaMo bombs
Namo Bombs replacing Lalu bombs
Replacing Yadav bombs
Gandhi bombs hahaha

Why not a new light

Wish you a new light


Monday, October 20, 2014

One life is not enough

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Book Review

“Innovation and originality were frowned upon and mediocrity was a virtue.”  That is one of the first lessons that the author of this book learnt about Indian Civil Services.  The author joined the civil services at a young age and if the book is any indication he did not deviate into the “risk” of surpassing mediocrity.

Though the book is subtitled “an autobiography,” it is more a political history of contemporary India.  The first few chapters throw some light into the personality of the author, but the light remains too scanty for the reader to gauge the personality and its formative factors.  What the reader gets is a hasty tour through Bharatpur (the author’s birthplace) and the Mayo College, Ajmer, as well as the Scindia School, Gwalior.  The author is evidently proud of his alma maters as well as his college, St Stephen’s, Delhi.   

The rest of the book is about the author’s experiences with the various political leaders of the country starting with Jawaharlal Nehru.  The first half of the book (exactly 11 chapters out of a total of 22) is too episodic and anecdotal to be a coherent autobiography.   The author is too much in a hurry.  We understand the reason for that haste when we come towards the last chapters: he is more interested in exonerating himself with regard to what he calls “The Volcker Conspiracy” which implicated him and his son in the Oil-for-Food Programme initiated in Iraq by the UN Security Council after the ouster of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.   The events that followed the Volcker Report led to the expulsion of Natwar Singh from the Congress Party. 

Nothing happens in the Congress Party without the knowledge and consent of Sonia Gandhi, according to the author.  Hence Ms Gandhi becomes a target of attack in a chapter devoted to her.  But Natwar Singh has much to say in appreciation of her too.  He is fairly balanced in his appraisal of the lady.  He is not so kind towards Dr Manmohan Singh who is described as a “spineless” man. 

The second half of the book is fairly interesting because it achieves some sort of coherence.  Chapter 12 titled ‘In Pakistan’ gives us certain insights into the way the government works (or fails to work) in that country.  The following chapters read like political history of India though they are also not entirely free from the episodic approach that plagues the first part. 

Particularly interesting is the chapter on the CHOGM Summit and the NAM summit that Delhi hosted in 1983.  We see certain heroes like Yasser Arafat throwing tantrums because he was asked to address the plenary session after the King of Jordan.  Saddam Hussein threatened to arrive with a hundred-member delegation on a Boeing with another Boeing carrying his bullet proof cars and commandos.  The Iranian delegation had serious reservations about sitting next to the Iraqis.  The Jordanian Foreign Minister demanded a seat far away from both the Iranians and the Iraqis.  Kim Il-Sung was paranoid as he insisted on an entire hotel for himself and his delegation with elaborate security arrangements.  The kings and leaders of nations are quite interesting like little children when we see them at close quarters and Natwar Singh does entertain us when he presents such episodes.

The book would have been much better had the author put in a little extra effort to add more substance to it.  As it is, it remains a very superficial political history of the country from the time of Indira Gandhi to the ascent of Narendra Modi.  Natwar Singh does not fail to praise Mr Modi on the last page while at the same time have a dig at the previous regime: “With a commanding majority in the Lok Sabha, the PM, to begin with will, I have no doubt, restore the image of the country which for the past few years has been on a downward path.”  After all, Mr Natwar Singh’s son, Jagat, had switched from the Congress and become a BJP MLA from Rajasthan. 

“Politics is a blood sport where there are no friends at the top,” says the author on one of the last pages.  The books reveals the superficiality of that game called politics where friendships are necessarily diplomatic relationships.

Acknowledgement: I’m grateful to a student of mine who lent me his copy of the book.  I wouldn’t have cared to buy one.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not all terrorists are inhuman

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Kidnapped by the Taliban is a recently published book written by Dr Dilip Joseph, along with a co-author, about his experiences with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Dr Joseph is an American physician of Indian origin.  His dream was to offer his medical services for the welfare of humanity.  In 2009 he joined the Colorado-based non-profit community and economic development organisation, Morning Star Development.

On 5 Dec 2012, Dr Joseph and two colleagues, en route from a medical clinic in an Afghan village to Kabul, found themselves face-to-face with four men carrying AK-47s. Forced at gunpoint into the back of a truck and driven to a remote location, the men were sure their hours were counted.

The doctors were rescued on the fifth day by the American Navy SEAL Team Six, the elite group of soldiers that took down al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.  The book narrates the experiences with the Taliban terrorists.  Dr Joseph learnt how much America values its citizens.  The country sent their best fighters to rescue their citizens from the terrorists.  The doc also writes that not all the terrorists were inhuman.  He was struck by the kindness displayed by some of them.  He realised that the Taliban was also looking for a better, more peaceful, world. 

Well, I haven’t read the book yet.  Just read some reports.  Waiting to read it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whoever has will be given more

“Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”  Jesus said that [Mathew 13:12].  Jesus was speaking about certain inner qualities, particularly the ability to perceive and understand. 

The top one percent of the wealthiest people on the planet own nearly fifty percent of the world's assets while the bottom fifty percent of the global population combined own less than one percent of the world's wealth,” says John Queally quoting latest statistics. 

Jesus lived in a time when human societies were organised around religion and the values and principles considered important by religion.  We are living in a time when the societies revolve round economy and economic considerations.  But what Jesus said holds good even today.  Those who have are getting more in our world too: the rich are getting richer.  And the poor are being eliminated.

When Capitalism began its royal global march about a quarter of a century ago, its professed objective was to create more wealth for everyone.  At that time 20% of the population rich countries owned 80% of the wealth.  Thanks to the success of the capitalist system, the ratio continued to grow in favour of the privileged few so much so that 1% people own 50% of the world’s wealth.  Those who have were given more.  And from those who did not have, whatever little they had was also taken away.  Or it is being taken away.  On that taking away lies the foundation of capitalism.

Poverty will be eliminated, promised the Bretton Woods Institutions which delivered capitalism to the entire world on platters lined with loans and regulations.  Now poverty is being successfully eliminated by eliminating the poor themselves. 

The classless society that Karl Marx envisaged is emerging slowly from the cleverly contrived experiments in the capitalist laboratories in the West.  That will be the only one class fit enough to survive in the world of Darwinian struggles.  The population of even that class will continue to dwindle as time goes by.  A few will live life king size and the rest will be trampled under the royal strides.  Among those royal boots a few will be those of Indians.  We, Indians, can feel proud about ourselves.  But will skeletons lying under tombstones without epitaphs have feelings such as pride?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When Monkeys Learn Commerce

Keith Chen, associate professor of economics at Yale University, wanted to test Adam Smith’s confident and classical assertion that man is the only animal that engaged in commerce and monetary exchange.  “Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that,” Smith had written.

For his experiment, Chen chose a group of 7 capuchins.  The capuchin is a species of small monkeys with a very small brain.  They spend most of their active life engaged in two activities: food and sex.  Hence, thought Chen, they are quite similar to human beings.  In fact, the capuchins are so greedy for food that they can overeat, and then throw up what they had eaten in order to eat more.  What will happen if such creatures are taught to make use of money?

Chen and Venkat Lakshminarayanan worked with the 7 capuchins kept at a lab set up by Laurie Santos, a psychologist.  First of all, the capuchins were taught the value of money by giving them silver coins and teaching them to use the coins to procure choice food from the researchers.  The capuchins came to learn not only to use the money but also to choose the food they wanted to buy.

Then they were subjected to price shock.  They were given less of a particular food for the money they paid.  For example, if they were used to getting three slices of apple for one coin, now they got only two.  The capuchins bought less of that food now that its price had gone up.  When its price was reduced, the capuchins bought more of it.  In other words, they behaved exactly like rational human beings in this regard.

The researchers now brought in gambling.  There were two games.  In both a coin was tossed.  But in one game, the capuchins received either one grape or a bonus one, dependent on the coin flip.  In the other game, the capuchins received either two grapes or none, dependent again on the coin flip.  Though the number of grapes that the capuchins received would be the same on the average, the creatures showed a remarkable preference for the first game.  That is, they avoided “the potential loss.”  In other words, they revealed what economists refer to as ‘loss aversion’ in human beings.  

One day the researchers were shocked by an act of mischief (or crime?) perpetrated by one particular capuchin named Felix.  Felix collected his 12 coins and, instead of buying food for them as usual, flung the coins in the cage.  Then he made a dash for them.  But chaos ensued.  Not only Felix, but all other capuchins made a dash for the coins scattered in the cage.  Nothing would persuade the capuchins to part with the coins they got illegally.  Nothing, that is, but the bribe of food.  They exchanged their ill-gotten coins for the food provided by the researchers.  They learnt a new lesson: crime pays.

The researchers were in for more shock.  As they watched they saw one male capuchin approaching a female one with the coin he had captured.  The female one had not got anything in the scramble.  Ken and his companion initially thought that the capuchin was being altruistic.  They were fascinated – until they saw the two creatures engaged in sex a few seconds later.  They were watching “the first instance of monkey prostitution in the recorded history of science.”  [The quoted phrase is from Superfreakonomics by S D Levitt & S J Dubner.  I’ve adapted this whole article from the last chapter of this book.  I acknowledge my debt to the authors.]

Ken and his companion were not allowed to continue their experiments any further.  The psychologist who owned the capuchins thought that the two economists would cause irreparable damage to the social structure of the capuchins.  So much so that the offspring of the capuchins might want to ride BMWs or go to the outer space for honeymoon or...

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Malala – daring to dream

With the American first family - Exactly a year ago 
Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of human aspirations.  What did she want apart from the simple things of life?  Nothing.  She wanted education, freedom to live her life as she would choose, and the space to dream.  Why didn’t people give her that? 

When she was shot point-blank as she was returning home from school, it was the innocence and aspirations of childhood that was assaulted.  Malala was just 15 years old when she became the target of religious fundamentalists.  She was a child.  Why would a child be a threat to any religion?  What kind of a religion is it that permits the murder of innocent children?  The masked Taliban gunman who attacked Malala asked, “"Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all."  His religious fervour was such that he could kill a whole lot of innocent school children.  No normal human being can understand the relevance or meaning of such a religion.

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid of going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.”  Malala wrote that in her BBC blog on 3 Jan 2009, three years before she was attacked by the Taliban. 

A girl who wishes to study, a child who wants to have dreams and not nightmares – that was Malala.  That is Malala.  She is a symbol of the dreams of every child.  The Nobel Prize Committee has done the right thing to honour her with the award.  It has drawn the attention of the world to a serious issue: the child’s right to dream.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Original Sin

“The question is how qualitative you want your life to be,” said Satan. 

“True,” replied Eve.  “In fact, this life is quite boring.”

“This is not the only life that’s open before you.  What you’re now doing is to live like animals.  You and Adam are just like the elephants or the goats or the fish or the birds.  You wake up in the morning, search for food, eat, rest, mate in the season and go to sleep.”

“What else is there to do?” wondered Eve.

“That’s precisely what I’m going to teach you,” Satan beamed with a kind of glee that could exist only in the hell.  “Imagine that you combine this animal life with the consciousness of the spirits.”

Satan paused.  Eve had begun to imagine.  But her imagination got stuck on the word ‘consciousness.’

“Mind, thinking, awareness...” Satan tried to explain.  Eve stared at him blinking in ignorance.

“See, the life of a pure spirit is boring too; more boring than that of the animals’.  The animals can at least eat and mate.  The spirits can’t do even that.  But the spirits possess a higher level of awareness, consciousness, by which they know much more than the animals do, they understand more, they can give meaning and purpose to their life...”

Eve began to understand. 

“For example,” Satan continued.  “Now you mate with Adam only when mating is a physical requirement you feel in a particular season and that is meant to produce offspring.  But with a higher level of consciousness you will understand the delights of sex, mating not for reproduction but for delight.  You rise above nature and its ways.  You acquire culture...”

Satan was bored of his existence as a spirit.  He wanted fun.  Adam and Eve were the best creatures of God who could be the subjects of his experiment.

God was bored of life in the heaven.  What was there to do except listen to the angels singing Alleluia all the time?  God did not prevent Satan from carrying out his experiment. 

God and Satan were relieved of their boredom when Eve accepted the apple offered by Satan.  An exhilarating feeling overpowered Eve when she bit into the apple.  It frothed in her brain. It became an intoxication.  Her brain was dancing.  Adam could perceive the change in his mate.  “Eat this and your brain will dance too,” said Eve. 

The intoxication aroused their spirits.  The aroused spirits understood their bodies differently.  Now the mating of the bodies had a new dimension.  They mated again and again.  Mated until it exhausted them.  And they glided into sleep.  When they woke up they looked at each other’s bodies in a different way.  They felt ashamed of their bodies.  Their spirits knew shame.  Their spirits knew sensual delights.  Their consciousness was evolving.

God watched them with amusement.  Satan watched them with inquisitiveness.  God’s amusement would eventually become grief.  Satan’s inquisitiveness would eventually be inherited by the offspring of Adam and Eve.  The inquisitiveness was the original sin. 

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Heathcliff on his deathbed

I’m coming to you, Catherine, dear,
Together we shall ravage this moor
With the fire of our passions.
We shall share these heights with none
Other than the creatures of the night
Whose grit and cheek match ours.

How long and terrible a vigil did
You demand from this your mate!
And wait did I, like a lump of coal
In the womb of the earth, for a birth.
This death is my birth:
To our dark nights, our paradise.

Our paradise!
Where fire shall purge fire
Into the brightest flame
That tempers coal into diamond.
Then shall be my rebirth, and yours,
And of the night.

NoteHeathcliff is the protagonist of Emile Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


When the orator sees a mike
Words rush out like a torrent.
He’s a good juggler of words.

Juggled words are like
                water drops falling in sunlight;
They have hues indeterminate
                and they dazzle.
I have learnt
                that words can create reality.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Autumn of the Patriarch


Draupadi’s question struck his heart like a poisoned arrow.  “Do you really believe that you are a selfless person?”

Bhishma, the Patriarch of two kingdoms, the most venerated of all the Kauravas and the Pandavas, stood speechless before a woman’s question.  Women played more role in his life than he would have ever wished.  In spite of his renowned vow that he would never let a woman enter into his life, women forced their way into his life.

It all started with a woman.  She was the daughter of a fisherman-chieftain.  Rather, adopted daughter.  In reality, she belonged to the celestial realms.  She had the gracefulness of a mermaid and the fragrance of musk.  No wonder Bhishma’s father fell madly in love with her.  It was that mad love which made a terrible demand on Bhishma.  He vowed that he would never marry, that he would never have any offspring.  A great sacrifice.  A noble sacrifice that made his reputation as the selfless patriarch of the kingdom. That sacrifice was the demand made, indirectly though, by Satyavati’s father who wanted his grandchildren to inherit the kingdom.  Otherwise what would his daughter’s position in the palace?  He loved his daughter more than anything else in the world.

That daughter, the same Satyavadi, would later tempt Bhishma.  When her son died leaving his young wives childless, Satyavadi asked Bhishma to produce offspring through Ambika and Ambalika.  It took more than the strength of his vow to overcome the temptation laid before him.  Ambika and Ambalika were two of the most charming women he had ever seen.  It was he who won them by defeating all other kings during her swayamvara.  It was he who made them the wives of his step-brother.  He had converted the swayamvara into a raid, in fact.  He could do that because he was Bhishma the Selfless One.

Satyavadi, don’t you realise that I a man, a man of flesh and blood?  He wanted to ask her.  No, he didn’t ask.  He was Bhishma, the Great.  Great men are not supposed to have the desires of ordinary people.  Bhishma had conquered all such desires.  Bhishma was not an ordinary man. 

But Draupadi’s question remained stuck in his heart like a poisoned arrow.  She had not asked it with rancour.  It came from her helplessness and dignity.  Was there pity too?  Did she pity him?  Pity his life whose greatness was built up on mistakes committed in the name of dharma?

What had he done to Amba, for instance?  Amba was the sister of Ambika and Ambalika.  He, Bhishma, had carried her off too to become the wife of his step-brother.  He mercilessly ignored her pleas.  She had told him that she was in love with Salva, the king of Saubha.  Salva had fought valiantly too for her. But what did he, Bhishma, do?  There was no place for love in his world of conquests.  The selfless patriarch who knew not the meaning of love.  Draupadi’s arrow quivered in Bhishma’s heart.

Her husband didn’t want as a wife a woman whose heart was with another man.  He let her go to the owner of her heart.  But the self-respect of kings is much more immense than their love for women.  “You have been polluted by another man’s touch,” declared Salva. “You cannot be my wife.”  She pleaded with him.  No man had touched her, she avowed solemnly and passionately through tears that flowed down her sweet cheeks.  Tears on such cheeks would have melted any ordinary man.  But kings are not ordinary men.  Amba was driven out of the Saubha palace.

She returned to the Kuru palace.  “No, don’t ever dream of being my wife,” said the Kuru king.  He refused to accept the counsel of Bhishma too in this regard. 

“You marry me then,” Amba turned to Bhishma.

“Who, me?” Bhishma was shocked.  How dared she?  Didn’t she know who he was?  Bhishma the Great.  Bhishma the Great cannot marry.  But the beautiful woman had shot an arrow into the tranquillity of his heart.  He had to order her out of his sight once and for all before the ripple in his heart would become a turbulence. 

A Ravi Varma painting
Are you really selfless?  Draupadi’s question wiggled in his heart. 

“Why don’t you at least see the adharma of what is happening here?” Draupadi demanded.  “Which son of a king would wager his wife?  Which man can wager his wife having lost himself first?”

“Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?” She turned to her husband who had lost the game of dice.  

Yudhishtira sat sullenly.  Draupadi looked her other four husbands.  They diverted their gaze from her. 

What is a woman?  Draupadi asked herself.  A commodity for men to buy and sell as they please?  This man, the great patriarch, the selfless one, hadn’t he done the same with other women too? 

“Dharma is too subtle, my dear,” declared Bhishma, “I am unable to resolve your question in the proper way.”

“Truth is simple,” returned Draupadi.  “But dharma is subtle.” 

Bhishma could not reply.  Rajneeti has its own dharma.  She could not understand that.  Can she understand the silence of all her husbands, brave warriors as they are?  The first loyalty is to the king.  Their king had lost himself.  He had lost them too.  He had lost her too.  That is the dharma of rajneeti.  If Yudhishtira answered her question, if he said, “Yes, I lost myself before I lost you,” a serious question would arise: “Does a woman cease to be the wife when her husband loses ownership over himself?”

No, my dear Draupadi, Bhishma heard him muttering to himself.  No.  You are raising a question that is not easy to resolve.  Are you a queen first and then a wife?  Or are you a wife first of all?  What is a wife’s dharma?

Dharma.  The patriarch had no answers.  Which is greater: dharma or love?  Well, he had renounced love, hadn’t he?  At any rate, what has love got to do with a kshatriya? 

The patriarch could not find words to speak even when Duhshasana started pulling out Draupadi’s sari.  He was contemplating dharma and rajneeti.

One day he would have to make a great sacrifice for the sake of the same dharma.  He would sacrifice himself.  Somewhere far away, Amba was re-creating herself in the fire of never-dying vengeance. 

Women, thought Bhishma the patriarch, Bhishma the Great.  Women make dharma mysterious.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Haider – Kashmir’s Hamlet

Vishal Bhardwaj has given us a monumental movie.  Haider keeps the audience glued to their seats from the beginning to the end.  Though the story is adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it takes on a fresh life of its own drawing its vitality from the complex situation that existed in Kashmir in the 1990s when militancy snowballed rending the whole social fabric of the state.  The Pandits were forced to flee in large numbers.  The Indian armed forces became a ubiquitous phantom amidst the dark shadows that hovered over the earthly paradise. In the movie, however, the armed forces appear briefly only.

Shahid Kapoor mesmerises us with his enactment of the young idealistic poet’s dilemma as he is torn between his romantic idealism and the horrible reality that unfolds before his very eyes.  Terrorism and the evils it spawns are sidelined by the betrayal of the young poet’s dreams about love and relationships.  Is his mother guilty of marital infidelity?  Is his paternal uncle a villain?  Does his own beloved girl turn a traitor on him? How much does he understand?  How much lies beyond his understanding?

The movie has not let down the genius of Shakespeare.  There are breathtaking moments of drama and poetry, subtle philosophy and stunning dark humour.  Like a mesmerising piece of undulating symphony, the movie grows in our psyche shaking it out of complacence of all sorts.  It makes us think profoundly.  It makes us feel deeply.  It moves to a climax quite different from what Shakespeare gave to his play.  It leaves us mesmerised.

Some truths can be very simple.  But most truths of human life become complex because of the motives attached to them by human beings.  For the armed forces, truths are as simple as ‘the person on the other side of the border is an enemy’ or ‘every terrorist is a threat to the nation’s integrity.’  Such truths belong to a rigidly systemic way of perceiving reality.  That’s why the role of the Forces in the movie is limited. Even the truths of terrorists belong to that category.  But a poet or a philosopher may have more complex truths when he asks a terrorist, “Are you a Sunni or a Shia?”  Truths become still more complex when genuine love and idealism underlie human quests.  Even the skull dug out of a graveyard can mock us on such occasions.  The graveyard can produce soul-stirring music, surrealistic though the music and the scene may be.  A touch of surrealism is inevitable in a movie like Haider.

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...