Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ad free Blog

I thought I would change my profession if Google Adsense could actually give me something by putting their ads in my blogs.  But I got nothing so far.  And there's no sign of anything coming at any time either.  So I'm removing all ads and sticking to the only job I know, teaching.

I feel liberated now.   Liberated from the world that I may never understand.

If any ad still appears in my blog, only Google is gaining. I can't help it, I suppose. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

War and Love


“You are so capable of loving.  Yet why do you fight and kill men?”  Briseis asked.

“Fighting is not my choice,” said Achilles having planted a passionate kiss on the ruby lips below Brisei’s lilac eyes.  Her eyes resembled those of a gazelle, serene and pure.  “I inherited it from my father and his father and all the ancestors.  One cannot wish away one’s ancestral inheritance.”

“I wish you could,” said Briseis wistfully.  She had lost her husband, father, mother and three brothers in the war led by Achilles’ people.  She was delivered to Achilles for the nocturnal pleasures of the day’s warrior.

Achilles looked at her as the soldier dragged her along and threw her on Achilles’ bed in the tent.  The gaze and the grace of the gazelle charmed Achilles instantly.  He sat beside her on the bed and wiped away the blood from her ruby lips.  But the lips still shone like ruby.  He smelled her hair.

“You a royal?” he asked.

She refused to reply.  He took his towel, squeezed it in the water basin and wiped away the signs of masculine assault from her silky cheeks.  “You are as beautiful as Helen,” he murmured.

Helen was the cause of the war.  Her beauty was the cause.  Or was it?  Her husband, Menelaus, was a man incapable of love.  He knew only to fight and kill.  To conquer.  He too had inherited war in his veins.  Helen wanted love.  She wanted to grow old with her man and not live in the palace like a priestess in Apollo’s temple.

Women, mused Achilles.  Strange creatures.  They make us mad.  They make us love and they make us fight.  I killed this woman’s husband, her parents and brothers.  My men did.  What’s the difference?  And here I am now falling in love with her. 

Achilles killed the men of her kingdom during the days and made love to her in the nights.  He longed to stop the killing and return to his own kingdom with his love.

“This is what women do to men,” spat out Patroclus, Achilles’ cousin and his bosom friend.  Patroclus walked out with Achilles’ armour and helmet when the latter was in bed with his love.  The army followed him.  Achilles’ armour could not save Patroclus. 

“Please don’t kill Hector,” pleaded Briseis as the news of Patroclus’ killing by Hector transmuted the passion in Achilles’ veins.  “He is my cousin.”

“He killed my cousin,” Achilles gnashed his teeth.

“How many cousins, how many husbands, fathers and brothers have you killed?”

Achilles did not wait to answer.  He had answered that already.  Days ago.  “Kings fight for land, fame or the booty,” he had told her. 

“What do you fight for?”

“A thousand years from now,” he said, “people will speak about Achilles.”

“A thousand years from now even the dust of your bones won’t remain,” she reasoned.

“That’s why,” he said.  “That’s why.”

How much should the women sacrifice for satisfying the egos of men?  The question grew in her heart and became an unbearable burden.  It suffocated her.  We are the toys in the hands of men; they play with us to soothe their tired bodies and minds.

Achilles, her new husband, was fighting with Hector, her old cousin. 

The sun had set long ago.  Achilles had not returned.  Briseis went to the fortress.  She could already see flames engulfing it. 

Achilles lay dying waiting for the flames to approach him and become his funeral pyre.  Briseis took his head in her lap and held him close to her bosom. 

“We will meet again,” he murmured.  “In Elysium.”

Why couldn’t we create the Elysium on the earth?  The answer lay dead in her lap.


Note: This is an episode taken from Homer's epic, Iliad.  i have taken certain liberties while retelling the episode. 


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ego-balloons and Iagos


“Society is necessary, yet inevitably corrupting.”  This is a theme that appears repeatedly in Joseph Conrad’s novels, according literary critic David Daiches.  One of the worst things that can happen to us is to be destined to live in a society that blatantly refuses to recognise our achievements.  It becomes worse still when there is a concerted attempt to belittle us for reasons like jealousy. 

The plain truth is that we all seek to be loved by the world whether we admit it or not.  We need the attention of other people though it may not be in the form of love.  The human ego is a “leaky balloon, forever requiring helium of external love to remain inflated, and ever vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect,” as Alain de Bottom said in his book Status Anxiety.

Society is the place where we get that indispensable helium from.  When we buy a car that’s better than the neighbour’s or send our child to a better school, we are in fact inflating the ego-balloon.  According to psychologist Festinger’s social comparison theory, we compare ourselves to others because there is no objective yardstick to evaluate our ego against.  How do I know I’m a good writer unless I compare my writing with others’ writings?  Or if other people don’t tell me that I am indeed good?

Yesterday, a person whom destiny brought into the higher echelons of my professional life made certain public remarks which obliquely sought to belittle my achievements.  The consolation offered by a colleague that jealousy was the cause of the remarks did help much in my effort to patch up the pinprick in my ego-balloon.  But a question began to dominate my thinking: does public opinion really matter?

The answer is what I have written so far.  But that fails to help me let go the ego-balloon.  Albert Camus, one of the novelists and philosophers who moulded my thinking significantly, comes to better aid.  He said, “To be happy one must not be too concerned with the opinion of others.  One should pursue one’s goals single-mindedly, with a quiet confidence, without thinking of others.”


I don’t find it hard to follow that advice, in fact.  The only problem is that there are a few Iagos that encroach on our diminutive space with wilful malevolence.  I guess that’s called destiny.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reaching for the stars


A former student of mine who is a diehard supporter of the BJP and its radicalism wrote on Facebook: “So some of the political parties in my country has (sic) a stern view that 'Astrology' is no science.”  I don’t know if the political parties in India have really stern views about anything, let alone astrology.  Isn’t politics, particularly the kind one finds in India, all about opportunism?  Even the BJP, my student’s own party, would have made all kinds of flip-flops had it not won the absolute majority in the Lok Sabha elections, hugging strange bedfellows and cooking up a bizarre coalition.  The drama that unfolded in Maharashtra after the Assembly elections is a mild indicator of the nature of politics in India.

The stars in the heavens do not alter their positions a bit while such dramas unfold all over the world. 

Do the stars affect our lives in any significant way?  When the Earl of Kent said in Shakespeare’s King Lear, “It’s the stars, / The stars above us, govern our conditions,” did he really mean that the stars determine our destiny?  Or was he expressing his pathetic inability to understand why evil strikes down good people?  Maybe, he was plunging desperately into escapism due to wretched helplessness.  Earlier in the play, another character (Edmund, “the bastard son” of the Earl of Gloster) says, “This is the excellent foppery (foolishness) of the world: that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if they were villains by necessity.”

I go with Edmund.  Astrology is not science but a good means of throwing our guilt, inability or sheer mistakes on to some other entity.  The stars are a good place to throw them since they are far enough to do anything about our shamelessly irresponsible acts. 

Science follows rigorous rules.  It can prove what it claims.  It can prove it anywhere, anytime, under the stipulated conditions.  Astrology cannot do that.  Hence it is not science.  QED.  My logic is as simple as that.

That does not mean astrology should be thrown lock, stock and barrel into the garbage bin.  Science is essentially an attitude of openness.  Science is the relentless quest for truth.  As such, science can research into the claimed impact of the stars and the planets on human lives or whatever.  I support research, inquiry and quest for truth.  But I sternly oppose unwarranted assertions of truth. 

Everything in the universe is interconnected.  There are laws that govern the positions and movements of the planets and other heavenly bodies.  The laws connect the heavenly bodies to one another.  The bodies attract one another with forces beyond our earthly imaginations.  The oceans on the earth respond to the pull of the moon, for example.  Lovers too do, it seems.  There’s much connection between the moon and romance in poetry, at least.  But poetry is not science!  When I was a boy I used to hear my villagers speaking about the relationship between the full moon and the mating season of the cattle.  That’s not poetry, I guess because the villagers had empirical evidence.

There are many things that science may not have understood yet.  That’s a limitation of science.  But that is also the strength of science, I know.  Astrology lacks that strength.  Hence it is not science.

But I’m a greater lover of literature than science.  Hence I admire the stars and the poetry they communicate.  I can hear the music of the heavenly spheres if I care to stand quietly in the right place.  The stars and the spheres can alter my feelings and attitudes.  To that extent, astrology is valid for me.  But is that the astrology that the BJP will include in the curriculum it is proposing?

Scientist Carl Sagan said in his book Cosmos, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”  There is science and poetry in the utterance.  The first sentence is science.  The second is poetry.  I love both.  Where does astrology lie?

Monday, November 24, 2014

India’s new rulers


Capitalism has never anywhere provided good houses at moderate cost. Housing, it seems unnecessary to stress, is an important adjunct of a successful urban life. Nor does capitalism provide good health services, and when people live close together with attendant health risks, these too are important. Nor does capitalism provide efficient transportation for people—another essential of the life of the Metropolis. In Western Europe and Japan the failure of capitalism in the fields of housing, health and transportation is largely, though not completely, accepted. There industries have been intensively socialized. In the United States there remains the conviction that, however contrary the experience, private enterprise will eventually serve.

Source
A personage no less than John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that in his book, The Age of Uncertainty (1977).  America has succeeded in exporting that belief to quite many countries.  India, under the present leadership, is the latest entrant into the elite club of capitalists.  People like Mukesh Ambani escort the Prime Minister on his important trips. Capitalists like the Adani Group get US $ 1 billion (INR 6200 crore) in the form of loan from the country’s premier bank for extending their business to Australia. 

Wayne Roberts, Canadian food policy analyst and writer, pointed out time and again that big corporations moved ahead from being taxpayers to tax recipients.  Tax breaks given to industrialists and corporations cost capitalist governments huge amounts of their revenues in the heydays of capitalism.  Will the huge loan given now to the Adani Group end up as a millstone around the Indian common man’s neck? 

Many economists and thinkers have drawn the attention of various policy makers to the plain fact that capital always drives for power, for control over markets, lands and resources.  “Capital, in corporate hands, can move anywhere and thus demand and get the utmost in concessions and privileges as well as the freedom to operate in the interest of ever-increasing wealth and assets,” wrote Eric Kierans, Canadian economist and politician, in 2001 (Remembering).

America shelled out its taxpayers’ money to bail out the country’s capitalists in the recent past.  American can afford to do that.  It has the potential to tide over every bust engendered by capitalism.  “Boom and bust has always marked capitalism in the United States,” to quote Galbraith again. “There were panics in 1785, 1791, 1819, 1857, 1869, 1873, 1907, 1929 and 1987.”  The more recent busts are still fresh in our minds.  Does India possess the potential to manage the busts spawned inevitably by capitalism? 

My knowledge of economics is limited.  I can only raise these questions and apprehensions.  As an observer of what capitalism has done so far in countries where it was given a free rein I’m afraid that the poor in India will have to be satisfied with Swachh Bharat and such crumbs. 

The BJP government is going to take away the subsidies from the rich.  I think it’s a good move.  But I’m quite sure that it is simply a forerunner of the end of all kinds of subsidies.  That is, in the near future there will be no subsidy for anyone, however below the poverty line may one be.  Welfare government is breathing its last in India, I think.  May I be proved wrong. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

History

Fiction

Mr Padgaonkar was having his usual Scotch whisky on rocks when his mobile phone rang its calling tune of Rang de Basanti.  A call that cannot be ignored.  Not by the editor of the leading national newspaper.  A call from the PMO. 

“Cut it out,” ordered the speaker.

“I will,” said Mr Padgaonkar with the obedience of a defiant school student in front of his most favourite teacher.

The Prime Minister’s Office had taken note of a news item on the newspaper’s website announcing the rewriting of the country’s history by changing the heads of ICHR and NCERT.  The office didn’t want it to be news; it was a clandestine affair which was meant for today’s students and their teachers.

“All the advertisements...”

“... will be cancelled.  I know.  Cut out that shit,” asserted the editor.  “I know the business.”  He has been running the business for more years than the Prime Minister had run politics even in his own state as Chief Minister.  “The news won’t appear in tomorrow’s paper.”

“Carry the photo of Deepika showing her cleavage...,” ordered the PMO’s office.

Editor gulped down his whisky.  “What?”

PMO’s office gave him the details of where Deepika was partying "tonight" with a dress that revealed her cleavage. 

“Thank you,” Editor poured himself another drink with the Basanti flavour before calling up his trusted journalist with the latest camera.

“This is called creating history,” mused Mr Padgaonkar whose father had bought the best newspaper of the country when it became independent.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Book Thief


Book Review

This is primarily a novel about the Nazi Germany during the Second World War years.  It tells the story of a young girl named Liesel who loses her mother and brother when is she is only 9 years old.  Her brother dies and her mother is taken away by Hitler’s people as she is a communist.  Liesel is handed over to Hans and Rosa Huberman.  She is the titular book thief and the first book is stolen during her brother’s funeral.  Symbolically, the book is A Gravedigger’s Handbook.  Her foster father will teach her how to read and she will steal a few more books eventually.

Hitler’s Nazis burnt books which were seen as opposed to their interests.  The Nazis created their own history, myths and illusions.  Hitler was a powerful orator who hated one particular community of people whom he sent to their death brutally.  Death was ubiquitous in Hitler’s Germany.  No wonder, Death is the narrator of Markus Zusak’s novel.  Hitler towers behind in the background unseen and yet making his presence felt like an undauntedly haunting ghost. 

Hitler knew the power of words and he used it effectively in order to murder millions of Jews as well as to project himself and his beloved Aryan race as the sole rightful inheritors of the earth.   Books too make use of words.  Liesel is in love with the magical worlds created by books.  But Hitler and Liesel are diametrically opposed to each other.  Hitler kills the Jews and Liesel’s foster parents shelter a Jew in their basement and have sympathy for the other Jews.

Zusak succeeds in creating a unique atmosphere in the novel which tells an extremely painful story.  There’s much poetry in the narrative.  There are some literary techniques employed too in order to pin our attention on certain notions which might otherwise escape our attention.

The essentially paradoxical nature of man is well illustrated in the novel.  We come across cruelty and compassion, love and hatred, genuine humanity and fabricated concerns.  Man is a bizarre creature in many ways.  Even Death, the narrator, will admit it.  It is haunted by humans, it says.  Even Hitler who fed on the lives of six million Jews will haunt Death eventually.

The novel grips the imagination with its poignant scenes and magical poetry.  But it can be a bit challenging in many places.  The reader cannot afford to be distracted; otherwise he will miss much.

Living in India at a time when its history faces the threat of being rewritten by a leader whose eloquence is a match for Hitler’s, I found The Book Thief very relevant and enchanting.

PS. The novel was converted into a movie last year.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forgiveness

Fiction

“I’m sorry, mum,” said little Nancy.  She apologised for everything from spilling the milk to forgetting to kiss her goodbye before leaving for school.  Just the opposite of her father. 

Sheetal smiled wryly as she remembered the day he said goodbye to her husband.  “You are so arrogant.  What do you think you are to possess such a Himalayan ego?  You commit all kinds of blunders while dealing with people.  You don’t know how to behave in a society.  You make a fool of yourself in every party after taking the first drink....”  It was endless list of omissions and commissions.  “And you never apologise even if you know you committed the most heinous offence.  Learn to apologise, that’s the least you can do!”

“Mum,” asked Nancy while the car was moving away from her father’s house, “what does ‘apo...’, ‘apol...’, ‘apolg...’ mean?”

Mum looked into her eyes for a moment and kissed her cheek. 

She repeated the question a number of times in different ways on various occasions even weeks after they had started living in their new house.

“It means to say sorry, darling,” finally Mum explained to her the meaning of ‘apologise’.  She used the word ‘sorry’ very generously after that as if her mum’s ultimate delight lay in that word.

“If dad comes and says ‘sorry’,” Nancy asked one day, “will we live together again?”

Nancy missed dad, Sheetal knew.  Dad was very fond of her.  He was her playmate in the evenings and on holidays.  They would play with her toys.  She would climb on him, tickle him, pull his ears...  He would smother her with kisses...

Sheetal knew that Gaurav loved her too.  But he could never express it the way he did it with Nancy.  He was clumsy whenever he had to deal with adults.  And he concealed his clumsiness by creating an air of arrogance.

The arrogance hurt most of the time.  It was blatantly insensitive.  He blamed her for everything because of that arrogance.  His ego could never accept his own mistakes. 

If he dropped the glass from his computer table, she was at fault for not taking it away after he had finished drinking the water.  If the computer hanged it must be because she visited some “idiotic” site.  If he trampled on her toes, it was because she came and stood in the wrong place.

“At least once, once in your lifetime, can’t you say ‘sorry’?” she asked him once.  “I won’t talk to you unless you apologise.”  He had slapped her when she argued with him over the school he had chosen for Nancy.  She didn’t want that particular school which was meant for the upwardly mobile social classes who always loved to buy a better car than their neighbours.  His view was that his daughter should be proud of her school.   The argument started.  On the meaning of pride.  And ended in the slap.  A slap is the last word of the person who is incapable of carrying forward even an argument, let alone a discussion.

The apology never came.  But Sheetal forgave him, nevertheless.

Forgiveness has limits, however.  She had reached the end of the tether when she walked out with Nancy.

She knew Gaurav would miss Nancy.  She knew he wouldn’t be able to live long without her.

She was right. 

Gaurav came one Sunday.  With an abundance of Nancy’s favourite sweets and snacks.  And a bouquet of orchids for Sheetal. 

When Sheetal brought coffee for him, he was playing with Nancy and knocked the tray accidentally. 

“I’m sorry,” said Sheetal as she tried to balance the tray in her hands.

“Oh no, it’s my fault,” said Gaurav taking the tray from her hands.

What!  Did he say it really?  Sheetal looked at him.  Into his eyes.  He was looking into hers.  Did she see a new light in those eyes?  She thought she did.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter


The spiders and the roaches beat a retreat
As November moves on to gnarled mists.
They are not like the human beings
And cannot put on layers to suit the season.

Man is the crown of God’s creation
‘cause he can add on layers and beat the season.
His smile can shine through the mist
With a dagger tucked away behind the mask.

Masks and layers make life’s winter warm
And conceal the colour deep down
While we fumble through the mist
Searching for the very same colour.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twilights



The other day I was in Nehru Place, Delhi, one of the largest computer markets in the world.   I wanted to get a printer cartridge refilled.  People jostled against one another in the crowded squares lined on every side with shops selling computers, accessories and other related goods.  The genuine goods competed with the counterfeit in attracting buyers.  Bargains were driven in like heartless hammer blows until the counterfeit items made mostly in China –  before India got a Prime Minister who would popularise a new slogan “Make in India” – found their actual prices. 

Suddenly a mellifluous chanting of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna rose above the hum of bargains and deals.  The chanting was accompanied by some musical instruments too.  While my HP cartridge was being injected with counterfeit ink, my eyes roved in the direction of the Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.  A band of foreigners attired in Indian style was chanting the mantra in apparent spiritual ecstasy.  They had attracted a circle of onlookers.  One of their companions was trying to sell copies of the Gita to people who were listening to him apparently out of curiosity and not with any intention of buying the book.  An Indian woman was going around trying to sell some CDs which no one was buying.

What were Rama and Krishna doing in a computer market? I wondered.  I recollected soon that I was in a market where the genuine and the counterfeit coexisted snugly.  I live in a country which merges contradictions and paradoxes into convenient syntheses of twilights. 

Is it that twilight which enchants these foreigners to India? I wondered.  Most of us Indians would love to live in countries from where these tourists come.  Most of us would love the luxuries they could afford, their science and technology which make life much more comfortable and convenient, reason reigning over superstition, sparsely populated cities, absence of filth on the streets...  Why do these people leave all that?  What do they hanker after? 

Is it that the absolute certainties of their science and rationalism fail to satisfy their souls?  Human souls love uncertainties.  Human souls long to believe than know for certain.  Long to stand in uncertainties.  Long to delve into the darkness of the unconscious. 

India is a country of those twilights.  We merge all contradictions seamlessly into practical approaches.  We can wear the three-piece western suit and lecture about the superiority of the ancient Indian civilisation.  We can import the latest technology from the West while at the same time boast about the plastic surgery carried out by God Ganesha or the space technology of Ravana.  We can let coexist the moral police who are outraged by some youngsters kissing in a restaurant and the mafias that run the sleaziest businesses, both enjoying the support of our political leaders.  We chant Vedic mantras reiterating the sanctity of our godly rivers while raw sewage and industrial waste are all directed into those rivers.    

The twilights are endless and infinite in our country.  They make life strangely enchanting.  There is nothing fascinating about the absolute certainties of science.  A formula like E = mc2 is too vivid a highway to be enchanting.  The dimly lit alleys and subways of myths and cults hold the charms of magic.    

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nehru and Modi: poles apart


A few weeks back the RSS mouthpiece in Malayalam, Kesari, published an article, by a man who contested the last elections on a BJP ticket, in which the writer argued that Nehru should have been the more appropriate target of Nathuram Godse’s bullets than Gandhi.  The article went on to heap as much ignominy on Nehru as possible.

The Sangh Parivar could never accept people like Gandhi and Nehru whose vision was extremely inclusive.  The Parivar’s own vision was not only exclusive but also filled with hatred for people professing religions other than Hinduism. 

BJP ad on the Maulana's birth anniversary
Mr Narendra Modi is shrewd enough to realise the danger that underlies such a constricted vision.   Gandhi and Nehru were (and they still are) highly admired far beyond the borders of Hindutva.  Modi as Prime Minister cannot afford to denigrate such figures in other countries at least.  Hence he changed the strategy: he decided to incorporate them into the Parivar pantheon which had anyway very few occupants of global reputation.  Sardar Patel was adopted first.  Gandhi followed.  Maulana Azad’s contributions to the freedom struggle were lauded by the Prime Minister on his birth anniversary the other day (though the Maulana was rechristened).  And now the BJP is competing with the Congress to celebrate Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary.

It seems that the national heroes of the Congress Party can only evoke images of the broom in Mr Modi’s mind.  According to a report in the Hindustan Times, “PM Modi, who took charge of the panel to celebrate Nehru’s birth anniversary after assuming power at the centre, wants “Bal Swachhta Mission” to be organized at schools November 14-19. He also suggested celebrating the 125th anniversary of Nehru as the “year of Bal Swachhta”.

Why not secularism, for a change?  After all, Nehru’s version of secularism was unique.  He redefined the concept in a way nobody had thought of earlier.  He made it the basis of religious tolerance in the country.  Nehruvian secularism will remain relevant in India as long as its religious diversity is allowed to survive.

Nehru envisaged an India where science replaced superstition, reason prevailed over blind faith, and humanism took over religious bigotry.  He was also a scholar who wrote a number of great books.  There are so many great qualities in this man which can be highlighted.  Yet one wonders why our Prime Minister has decided to associate Swachhta with him.  How many freedom fighters will be forced to be Broom Ambassadors?  To what extent will history be trivialised in the days to come?  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Difficulty of Being Good


Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers


Book Review

Title: The Difficulty of Being Good
Author: Gurcharan Das
Publisher: Penguin India, 2012

The Mahabharata is an epic that can be interpreted in numerous ways.  As Gurcharan Das says, “It is a cosmic allegory of the eternal struggle between good and evil on one plane.  At another level, it is about an all-too-human fight between the cousins of a royal family, which leads to a war and ends tragically in the death of almost everyone.  At a third level – and this is primarily the subject of my book – it is about the crisis of conscience of some of its characters.”

Das spent six years studying the epic, having taken an “academic holiday” from his successful career as a writer.  Before turning to fulltime writing, Das worked with multinational companies.  The prevalence of evil in the world of human beings set Das on a kind of spiritual quest.  The Difficulty of Being Good was the outcome. 

The book is an intellectual, spiritual, moral, philosophical and psychological exploration of one of India’s greatest epics.  It deserves to be read by anyone who wishes to understand the Mahabharata from a very wide perspective.  Anyone who is put off by the burgeoning darkness of evil in the world should read this book. 

It does not provide any solution to the problem of evil.  There isn’t any solution.  But we can learn how to deal with evil and keep ourselves good.  Quoting Machiavelli Das says, “a man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not so good.”  When the patriarch Bhishma said that dharma was subtle, he meant little else. 

The Mahabharata shows how difficult it is to be good in a world of ‘bad’ people.  Yudhishthira tried his best to cling on to what he perceived as his dharma but failed to avoid the war and all the killings.  Yudhishthira’s dharma was based on benevolence, compassion and generosity.  Krishna, an avatar of God Vishnu himself, used many devious strategies and deceptions in order to defeat the Kauravas.  Even God would find it difficult to be good in the world of human affairs. 

What is our duty then?  That’s what Das’s book tries to answer.  It succeeds in providing a convincing answer too.  It is worth reading the book whether one is religious or not.  The insights provided in the book are not based on any particular religion.  Das brings in a whole spectrum of knowledge ranging from classic literature to contemporary economic views, from philosophy to psychology.   The best thing about it is its lucidity in spite of the profundity.

The books shows how religious literature should be read and interpreted.  That one reason alone should be enough for one to read it.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Born Spectator



One infant grows up and becomes a Modi
Another settles down quietly with shaadi

This one the coveted circle hates to enter
That one gets a cabinet rank in the centre

I am just glad as glad can be
That I am not them, and they are not me

With all my heart I do admire
Politicians with their pneumatic tyre

And the flashing bulb on the roof
Also the hooter that’s foolproof

And the way they take each poll in gaudy pomp
And maim each opponent as they romp

My limp and bashful spirit feeds
On other people’s heroic deeds

You’d think my ego it would please
To vote to power one of these

Well, ego it might be pleased enough
But the queue at the booth is rough stuff

I’d rather be a spectator than cast the vote
For people who will only rock my life’s boat



Confession: This is a parody on Ogden Nash’s classical poem, The Confessions of a Born Spectator, inspired by Gujarat’s decision to make voting compulsory for all adult citizens.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Kiss of Love


Kissing is certainly better than killing.  The Kiss of Love movement that started in Kerala in protest against the moral policing perpetrated by the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Mortuary (as it should be named) is spreading to many other places including Delhi. 

This is the real Pink Revolution, I think.  Our Prime Minister introduced the phrase ‘pink revolution’ during his election campaign in the so-called Hindi belt to refer to the beef industry allegedly sponsored by the Congress Party.  Cheap gimmicks don’t actually take one long way.  So the PM has cleaned his ways by taking up the broom which act was converted into another gimmick by his followers.

What the youth of today are demanding is a vision beyond such gimmicks.  We don’t want divisive politics, they are asserting.  The people of India don’t want a government that will decide what they will eat or wear, which religion they will practise or don’t practise, and who they will marry or befriend.  The people want a government that will usher in prosperity and happiness for all citizens.

Organisations like the RSS belong to a bygone era.  They have no role to play in an Information Technology-driven society unless they modify (not with a capital initial letter) their worldview. 

Yes, we need culture and good public manners.  Going around planting kisses on every attractive pair of lips is not at all a healthy way of expressing anything.  But that’s not what the youth are doing.  They are demanding quite something else.  The obscurantist organisations and their political parties fail to understand the changes that the youth want today. 

A society which lets people do what they want so long as the deeds are not harmful to anyone: that’s all what the youth are demanding.  Let religions and politics confine themselves to their rightful places. 

Swachh Bharat cannot be achieved with the broom and the toilet cleaner.  That’s what Young India is saying.  Clean up your minds first and the rest will follow. 

This is my 500th post at this site.  A kiss of love and gratitude to all my beloved readers. Let there be more love and kisses.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jinnah: the making of a communalist


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Communalism and greed for political power are like iron and magnet.  Mohammed Ali Jinnah is a good case study. 

Jinnah returned to India in 1906 having become a Barrister.  He was a secular, liberal nationalist then, a follower of Dadabhai Naoroji.  He joined the Congress and opposed the Muslim League staunchly.  Aga Khan, the first president of Muslim League, called Jinnah “our toughest opponent” and Sarojini Naidu gave him the title “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.”

When he entered the Central Legislative Council from Bombay as a Muslim member under the system of separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims, Jinnah became what historian Bipan Chandra calls “a communal nationalist.”  Jinnah was still a member of the Congress but had stepped on to the slide of communalism.  Once you are on the slide of communalism, the downward motion is quick and natural.

Yet as late as 1925, Jinnah could tell a young Muslim who claimed he was a Muslim first: “My boy, no, you are an Indian first and then a Muslim.”  Jinnah was not at all a religious person at heart.  By temperament he was secular.  By faith, he was an atheist.  (V D Savarkar was an atheist too.) But greed for power made him a communalist.  He wanted to be the Prime Minister of independent India.  If not India, then Pakistan.

In 1937-38, Jinnah understood the real potential of communalism as an easy route to political power.  The liberal nationalist, the atheist, now started crying that Islam was in danger in India.  “The High Command of the Congress is determined, absolutely determined, to crush all other communities and cultures in this country and establish Hindu raj in this country,” declaimed the atheist-turned-communalist. 

The Hindu communalists did not fail to add fuel to the fire that was being lit.  “We Hindus are (already) reduced to be veritable helots throughout our land,” proclaimed V D Savarkar in 1938.  Soon the RSS Bible, We, was published highlighting the ominous risks run by the “Hindu National life.”

In addition to all this mounting hatred and mutual suspicion was the British desire and policy to “divide and rule.”

Then there were other vested interests like traders and landlords who found it apt to use the communal forces to secure their own interests.  The Muslim landlords in West Punjab, for example, had much to gain by supporting the Muslim League.  The Hindu zamindars, merchants and moneylenders in North and West India drifted to Hindu communal parties and groups for their own interests rather than the nation’s. 

Personal interests are better taken care of when projected as the interests of a community, if not the nation itself. 

Almost seven decades after we won Independence, we still hear talks of a particular religious community being in danger in the country and hence the need to rewrite the history of the country.  The Union education minister has already approached certain historians of a particular hue for rewriting the history textbooks of NCERT.  We are reminded of what happened when the BJP came to power earlier and Murli Manohar Joshi was the education minister.  

Historian Bipan Chandra said in his classical work, India’s Struggle for Independence, “The communalists increasingly operated on the principle: the bigger the lie the better.  They poured venom on the National Congress and Gandhiji...”

How many national heroes are going to have their faces blackened and how many theirs whitened by the new histories that will be written, we can wait and watch.  Atheists have fought and killed for religions and villains have become heroes in the history of our species. 



Friday, November 7, 2014

Truths in God’s Own Country


“No,” I said vehemently into the mobile phone.  But he wouldn’t listen.  The zeal for his “Lord and God” had overwhelmed him.

“Why is it that you don’t want me to come to Kerala?” he asked.  “You people claim that it is God’s own land and now you don’t want me, the God’s apostle, to come to God’s own land?”

He was Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus.  He wanted to bring the light of Jesus to Kerala.  I explained to him with my whole heart and soul that the Malayalis never accepted any truth from outside the state, though they depended on other states for everything else including vegetables.  They think that they possess all the truth and nothing but the truth.

“How can you make such a ridiculous claim?” exclaimed Thomas who was convinced that his Master was the only Truth and Light.  Thomas claimed that he had even verified Jesus’ truth scientifically.  “Empirically,” he amended himself when I asked, “Scientifically?”  He had touched the nail marks on Jesus’ palms and put his finger in the spear-wound between his ribs.

He was carrying truths from the depths of gaping wounds, he claimed.  No truth can be more moving, more dynamic, he said passionately.

“Listen, Thomas, dear,” I tried my best to mollify his zeal.  The Catholic truths in Kerala are fabricated by K M Mani, the Finance Minister and leader of Kerala Congress (M), in connivance with the bishops of the Church, the Hindu truths by Sukumaran Nair of the Nair Service Society and the fledgling BJP leaders, the Muslim League creates the Muslim truths, then we have the Marxist truths, Leninist truths, Maoist truths, Dalit truths, in addition to the elite class truths coming from none other than the Chief Minister himself...

“Truth is as simple as a mere ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” insisted Thomas.  “How can there be so many truths as you explain?”

An idea struck me suddenly.  “Hey, Thomas,” I said, “do you know that all the 700 plus bars in Kerala have been closed.  And they’re going to close the remaining ones too including the 3-star and 4-star ones.”

I didn’t tell him that K M Mani, one of our truth manufacturers, was facing a serious corruption charge levelled by the Bar Owners’ Association.  I didn’t want to tell him that the Bar Owners’ Association and other similar associations of traders possess all the protean truths in God’s Own Country also just like anywhere else in the neoliberal world.

“Then what will I do for the eucharistic wine?” asked Thomas.

“That’s what,” I said gleefully.  “You’ll only get spurious wine that comes from across the borders along with all the other spurious stuff that the Malayalis eat and drink.”

“Oh, no,” cried Thomas. “Let me see if I can reschedule my flight.”  Religious people don’t like spurious stuff particularly when it comes to food.

I heaved a sigh of relief.  I knew Thomas’ truth would not be able to outlive Mani’s and Chandy’s truths, Sukumaran Nair’s and Vellapally Natesan’s and Pinarayi Vijayan’s and so many other Malayali luminaries’ truths.  Even if it broke even with all these, it would stand no chance before the truths of the new brigands of ‘moral police’.  There would be no way of escaping the nooses dangled by the genetic descendants of Arnab Goswami who have invaded the countless news channels...


Note: It is believed that Thomas, the Apostle, landed in Kerala along with the traders who used to come and go regularly in those days.  


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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Time Machine


The Cast

Narrator
Abhinav – student
Vinay – student
Chetan – student
Pradeep – person in 2114
Ravi – person in 2114
Shiv – person in 3114

Setting: A time machine is kept at the centre-back. 

Narrator:         Mankind has travelled a long distance from the time we evolved out of the apes.  Somewhere along the way, we became civilised.  We started living more like human beings with reason and imagination than like animals with endless hunger.  We leant to respect others, their languages, religions, cultures.  We learnt to cooperate rather than compete.  We replaced kings and dictators with elected leaders.  We opened up national borders in the name of globalisation.  The world has become a global village.  Everyone is linked to anyone in the world.  The smartphone and the internet, chat zones and the digital technology – together they had made our life very easy, comfortable and lovely.  But is it really a world better than the past?  Will the future be better than the present?  Kabir House brings to you a short play titled ‘Time Machine’.  We invite you to take a peep into the future and then the past, and decide whether our civilisation is indeed developing or shrinking.

            Here are three school boys completing their manufacture of a time machine.  They read H G Wells’ novel The Time Machine, and started manufacturing one of their own.  Let us see if they have completed it.

Scene 1

            Abhinav, Vinay and Chetan are working on the Time Machine.
Abhi:    Could you pass me the screwdriver?
Vinay:  Our time machine is almost ready, isn’t it?
Chet:    Why almost?  It is ready.  In a few minutes from now, we can take a ride in time. 
Abhi:    We can go back to 1869 and see Mahatma Gandhi as an infant sitting on his mother’s lap.
Vinay:  Go further back and conduct and interview with Ashoka the Great.
Chet:    We can go still back and meet Lord Rama.
Abhi:    And ask him where exactly he was born.
Vinay:  Yeah, and avoid the confrontation in Ayodhya.
Chet:    We could meet Hitler and request him not to kill the Jews.
Abhi:    But we can only see the past, not change it.
Vinay:  Oh, yes, we can only see the past, not change it.
Chet:    So, let’s go to the future.
Abhi:    Yes, the future.  The future beckons us. 
Vinay:  Can we change the future?
Chet:    No, we can’t change the future.
Abhi:    We can see the future.
Vinay:  And change our present.
Chet:    Yes, the present.  The present is important.
Abhi:    The present is the only time in which we can do anything.
Vinay: Indeed, the present is the only time in which we can do anything.
Chet:    The present is for action.
Abhi:    The past is gone.
Vinay:  We can’t retrieve it.
Chet:    The future is yet to come.
Abhi:    We can’t act in it.
Vinay:  The present is the time for action.
Abhinav and Chetan together: The present is the time for action.
Vinay:  Let us start our action.
Abhi:    Let us begin our journey.
Chet:    Here we go.
Vinay:  Into the future.
Abhi:    Into the future we go.
They enter the time machine and pull a lever.  Music – sound of a rocket.

Narrator:         The Time Machine whirred its way into the future.  The boys landed in the year 2114.  A hundred years from now.  What will the world be like a hundred years from now?
The boys come out of the Time Machine.
Vinay:  Hey, where have we reached?
Chet:    This looks like some desert?
Abhi:    No human beings in sight?
Vinay:  There’s someone coming.
Chet:    Not one, but two.
Pradeep and Ravi enter.  One of them is holding a bow and arrow, and the other has a spear. They wear very simple, rustic dress.
Prad:    Who are you?
Ravi:    You look total strangers here.
Prad:    Have you come from some other planet?
Pradeep and Ravi touch and examine the boys’ clothes.  The boys are slightly frightened.
Abhi:    We are not from another planet.
Vinay:  We are from the year 2014.
Chet:    We are time travellers.
Prad:    You came from the past?
Ravi:    From our glorious past?
Prad:    Yes, we have heard that story.
Ravi:    About our past civilisation.
Prad:    When people lived in luxury.
Ravi:    We have heard about cars and computers.
Prad:    Robots and rockets.
Ravi:    Mobile phones and digital cameras.
Abhi:    Do you mean to say that you have none of these things?
Vinay:  Do you mean to say that there is no hi-fi technology in your world?
Chet:    Did we travel into the future or the past?  Did we make a mistake?
Prad:    No mistake, boys, no mistake.  You are in the year 2114. 
Ravi:    43 years after the third world war.
Abhi, Vinay and Chet (together): Third World War?
Prad:    Yes, third world war.
Ravi:    It destroyed the human civilisation.
Prad:    It destroyed all that our ancestors had created.
Ravi:    It destroyed the cars and computers.
Prad:    It destroyed the robots and rockets.
Ravi:    It destroyed the world. 
Prad:    A few thousand people survived.
Ravi:    We are the children of those people.
Vinay:  But why did they fight?
Chet:    Why was there a world war?
Prad:    For water.
Abhi:    For water?
Ravi:    Yes, for water.
Prad:    The population on the earth had crossed ten billion.  And all those people could not find enough drinking water.
Ravi:    Rich countries like America and China started amassing water for their own people.  Water sources were privatised.  Multinational companies started buying up rivers and lakes.
Prad:    People from many countries started dying of thirst.  They cried for water and their governments did not listen. 
Ravi:    The governments had sold the water to multinational companies.
Prad:    Little children cried for water.
Ravi:    Infants died of thirst in their mother’s wombs.
Prad:    People killed one another...
Ravi:    And those who survived drank the blood of the killed.
Prad:    Pools of blood replaced lakes of water.
Ravi:    Riots and revolts broke out...
Prad:    In every nook and corner of the planet.
Ravi:    Countries took out their missiles and rockets...
Prad:    And fought wars with atom bombs.
Ravi:    Everything was destroyed.
Prad:    The planet was scorched.
Ravi:    Life had to begin again.
Prad:    And it grew again.
Ravi:    From the beginning.
Pradeep and Ravi move away and vanish.
Vinay:  My God! Is this the future that is awaiting us?
Chet:    We should go back and tell everyone...
Abhi:    To use water sparingly,
Vinay:  Not to convert our planet into a desert.
They get back into the Time Machine.

Narrator:         The boys pulled the lever of the Time Machine in a hurry.  They were in a hurry to reach back home and tell everyone what they had seen.  But due to the hurry they pulled the lever in the wrong direction and reached a thousand years further in the future.  They landed in the year 3114.

Eerie sounds in the background.  Frightening sounds.  Sounds of humming and droning insects, crawling creatures... Ghostly music. The boys hesitate to get out of the Machine.

Abhi:    Where have we reached?
Vinay:  (Goes and looks at the dial of the Time Machine) Oh! We made a mistake.  We have reached the year 3114. 
Chet:    Look at the world!  It looks dead.  And horrible.
Abhi:    It’s a desert. 
Vinay:  The little water over there looks like a pool of filth.
Chet:    It’s black in colour.
Abhi:    See, someone’s coming.
Vinay:  He looks terrifying. 
Chet:    Is he a monster?
Abhi:    Shall we get into our Machine and get away from here?
Vinay:  No, don’t panic.  He can’t even walk properly.  He’s staggering.
Chet:    Oh, yes.  He looks like a tired, old man.
Enter Shiv, looking like a weary savage. The boys and Shiv stare at one another. 
Shiv:     [frightened] Who are you? 
Abhi:    We are boys from one thousand and one hundred years ago.
Shiv:     One thousand one hundred years ago?  [He calculates something using his fingers and some gestures.]  I think I can understand.  I remember what my forefathers taught us.  They taught us that there was a time of great technology.  A time of computers and great machines. 
Vinay:  Yes. We belong to that time.
Shiv:     Why did you come here?  You are responsible for this. [He points to the world around.]  Your machines and your lifestyle.  They brought about this on the planet.  You people threw all your plastic and electronic waste all over the planet.  And the planet died.  You killed the planet.  You are murderers.  [He coughs like a dying man.] You killed mankind.  You killed the animals and the plants.  You killed life.
Chet:    But... but, we didn’t know.
Shiv:     Didn’t know!  Yes, you didn’t know.  You should have known.  Should have known.  Should have known.  [Walks out slowly as he mutters those words again and again.]
Abhi:    My God!  Is this the future of our planet?  Is this how our beloved planet earth going to end?
Vinay:  It is a sad future indeed.
Chet:    We should do something to prevent this.
Abhi:    We should do something to save the planet.
Vinay:  Come on, let’s get back to our own time.  We should do something about this.

They get back on the machine and pull the lever. They disappear.
Narrator:  The boys did not get back to their own time.  Did not ever.  No one knows what happened to them.  Did they go back in time and arrive in some beautiful time and place in the past?  Did they decide to live there, in a world where people lived a relaxed life, without computers and mobile phones?  Without rockets and missiles?  We don’t know what happened to them.  But we know what can happen to us, to our planet unless we take care of the planet with love and tenderness.  Let us learn to love the planet.  Let us learn to avoid wastage of all sorts.  Let us shun strife and hatred.  Let us cultivate love and compassion.  Make me a channel of your peace, oh heavens above.  Let this be the prayer of each one of us.  Thank you.


 Note: I wrote this skit for my students and it turned out to be of no use to anyone in the end.  So I have put it up here.  Let it find some use for itself. The skit was highly inspired by the novel of the same name by H G Wells. 

 

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