Saturday, January 31, 2015

Words are Ghosts

Words lost their souls and turned into ghosts
            that haunted the pulpits and public places.
The King is a great orator who conjures up
            paradises of soulless words and gimmicks.

Verbal ghosts are hungry for blood
            that was shed in the dark alleys of bygone days.
They travel on witches’ brooms between
            Rama’s Treta yuga and the Mahatma’s Kali yuga,
Their forked tongues spitting poison
            presumed as nectar by fortune-seekers,
            the sexless witches impotent to make love.

They make war,
They make places of worship,
Where the gods are always hungry,
            creatures of infinite hunger,
            they swallow love and truth;
They are gods of words,
            words turned ghosts,
                        ghosts that haunt a nation.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Gandhi and Godse

It was a cold morning on 30 Jan 1948.  Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte and Vishnu Karkare met together once again in Retiring Room number 6 at Old Delhi Railway Station.

Godse had failed in his two earlier attempts to kill Gandhi.  He did not want to fail again.  “Third time success,” he said half jokingly to his friends.

“There will be heavy police guard for Gandhi especially because of the murder attempt just ten days back,” said Godse. 

Godse suggested they should buy an old camera which needed a tripod and a black hood.  He would pose as a photographer and conceal the pistol inside the base of the camera.

“Nobody uses that sort of a camera nowadays,” said Apte.  He dismissed it as “a bad idea.”

“Disguise yourself as a Muslim woman wearing a burqa,” suggested Karkare.  “There are many Muslim women who attend Gandhi’s prayers.  After all, he is their saviour, isn’t he?”  He spat out his hatred.  

“No,” said Godse having put on the burqa that was brought in.  “The folds are a hindrance.  I won’t ever be able to take out the pistol at the right time.”

“Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best,” said Apte when they had wasted almost the whole morning discussing various ideas.  Apte suggested that Godse should wear a greyish military suit which was very commonly used by people those days.  Its design was such that it could conceal a pistol easily.

They went to the Birla temple.  Apte and Karkare offered prayers to the deities for the success of their mission.  Godse did not enter the temple.  When Apte and Karkare returned having offered their obeisance to goddess Kali, they found Godse standing beside a statue of Shivaji.  “I have had my darshan,” he said curtly.

Godse had been convincing himself that he was indeed doing the right thing by killing Gandhi.  Gandhi had blasphemed Hinduism and its gods.  He had made the Hindus weaklings.  He had let the Muslims get away with what they wanted.  Godse could feel hatred surging in his veins.  Murderous hatred.  His grip on the pistol became tight.

None of the three men had imagined that they could gain entry to the Birla House so easily.  There were no guards at the gate.  5.10 pm.  Gandhi was late.  Finally he came supporting himself on the shoulders of Abha and Manu. 

“Namaste, Gandhiji,” said Godse as he stepped right in front of Gandhi.

“Brother,” said Manu, “Bapu is already ten minutes late...”

Godse pushed her aside fiendishly, took out his pistol and fired three times.

“Hey Ram!”

“All those who believe in the brotherhood of men will mourn Gandhi’s death,” said the French Premier, Georges Bidault, on hearing of the assassination.

“India is for the Hindus,” asserted Godse as he awaited his death in the prison.  He could never understand the meaning of concepts like “brotherhood of men”.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Indian Spirit

The real question is not whether the original Preamble to the Indian Constitution contained the words ‘secularist’ and ‘socialist’ but what the present India really wants to be.  It is not a matter of words as much as about intentions and motives.

A flashback from history

Delhi, June 1947

Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of the British Raj, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and a few others are giving the final touches to the governments of independent India and Pakistan. 

“You be the first Governor-General of independent India,” says Nehru to Mountbatten who is visibly dismayed.

It is a gesture of gratitude and appreciation from the magnanimous people of India to a person who has been working heart and soul for the past four months keeping in mind the welfare of both the countries that are being created.

Jinnah has already declared himself the Governor-General of Pakistan.

“According to the Constitution,” points out Mountbatten, “it is the Prime Minister who will have all the power; the Governor’s role is a symbolic one with no real power attached to it.”

Jinnah takes a deep puff on his pipe and declares as solemnly as a king, “I will be Governor-General and the Prime Minister will do what I tell him to do.”

Should I accept this new role?  Mountbatten asks himself.  His wife is totally against it; she has already communicated her intention to him: leave India to the Indians. 

Mountbatten says, “The Mahatma will take the decision.”

In spite of the numerous arguments and disagreements that they have had in the past four months, Mountbatten and Gandhi have grown to like each other.  Gandhi never hates anyone.  It is the British rule in India that he hated, and not the British people, Mountbatten knows that too well. 

Gandhi is happy to have Mountbatten as the first Governor-General of independent India.  It is symbolic of India’s tolerance and magnanimity.

Mountbatten is flattered by the tribute of the Mahatma.  “We’ve jailed him, we’ve humiliated him, we’ve scorned him, and he still has the greatness of spirit to do this.”  A miasma of moisture rises to Mountbatten’s eyes in spite of himself.

Flashback ends

Delhi, January 2015

The  President of America is the guest at the Republic Day celebrations.  He is aware of the intolerance that has gripped the Indian society.  So he is compelled to speak words such as: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines. Every person has the right to practice their religion how they choose,” and “Our nations are strongest when we see we are all God's children, all equal in his eyes.  Sometimes I have been discriminated against on the basis of the colour of my skin.”

India has a Prime Minister who may not agree.  His government erases or wishes to erase the concept of secularism from the Constitution.  The Prime Minister knows how to create magic with words.  And he has an invisible army of volunteers transmuting his magic into protean shapes of reality, into kaleidoscopic patterns that dazzle a nation’s fancy.

Jai Hind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Obama’s Parting Shot

The ad: see the watermark

 In its advertisement - DAVP22201/13/0048/1415, which was published on 26 January - the government quotes the preamble of India's Constitution as "We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC...." as opposed to the genuine version that states: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens..."

Mr Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, is averse to both socialism and secularism.  He is adept at making use of surreptitious practices to achieve his objectives.  The way he tried to foist a lot of ordinances on the country, in spite of his party enjoying the majority in the Lok Sabha, was snubbed by the President himself.  There are many activities going on behind invisible curtains, activities that may remind one of Hitler and his propagandists, activities that will disrupt the country’s religious texture.

The parting shot delivered by the American President in his “Town Hall” speech is of greater relevance than most Indians may imagine.  He underscored the importance of secularism and the need to sustain the religious diversity in India.

Just as the Indian Prime Minister chose to keep mum on many issues related to attacks on minority communities, he will in all probability ignore our demand for explanation on the disappearance of Socialism and Secularism from the Preamble of the Constitution.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, said that.  Mr Modi and his supporters have already started practising it.  The outcome may not be what India as a country voted for a few months back.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grow up, Kejriwal

Dear Arvind,         

I’m not surprised by your latest act of sob-sob over not being invited to the Republic Day celebrations.  You must have been particularly peeved by my presence in the VIP enclosure being chaperoned and parasoled by a senior security officer.  Come on, man, grow up.  Stop being a silly whimpering kid.

You’ve always been a kid, I know.  When I shared the platform with you during the India Against Corruption days, I saw through your silly infantile idealism.  You are a childish dreamer, Arvind.  You dream of an India without corruption.  I have grown up and grown out of impossible dreams.

I know you haven’t forgotten those days when I called Mr Narendra Modi all kinds of names for your sake.  I thought you were the leader, the Messiah, that India was waiting for.  But I am now grown up.  I know who the real leader of India is.  I know how the game is played.

Grow up, Arvind.  Shirk off your childish dreams and learn the politics of the adults.  Learn to use power when you get it instead of throwing it away like a kid who gets tired of his toy.  Learn to be a winner and not a whiner. 

Learn to rise to the occasion.  Learn to swallow your words.  Learn to switch loyalties according to situations.  Learn to put on masks.  Learn to betray friends.  Throw away idealism; be downright practical.  And you reach the Rajpath to power and VIPs come to hold the umbrella over your head. 

Wishing you a quick growing up,

Your former friend and ally,
Dr Kiran Bedi

PS. Inspired by a report in today’s Hindu: Bedi mocks Kejriwal, says he must grow up.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Two Superpowers Meet in Delhi

The American President, Barack Obama, has already embraced the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in the highly girdled airport in Delhi.  This is the second jaadu ki jhappi between the leaders of two nations with similar global interests.  Obama’s country has been the world’s moral police since the second world war and Modi’s India aspires to wrench that hegemony. 

About two decades ago, Samuel P Huntington wrote in his famous and controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, that “If at some point India supplants East Asia as the world’s economically most rapidly developing area, the world should be prepared for extended disquisitions on the superiority of Hindu culture...”  Interestingly, Huntington added that the disquisition would have to be about “the contributions of the caste system to economic development” and a fundamentalist assertion of indigenous culture.  Huntington was not a divinatory astrologer but a Harvard University professor of political science. When he wrote those words India was still struggling to grow up from what was mockingly labelled as the Hindu rate of economic growth.  And now India has succeeded in creating a new caste system: a duplicate of what Obama’s country created originally.

Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister at a time when India had already achieved what Huntington calls “material success.”  So it is easy for the Prime Minister to proceed to what Huntington predicted as the natural outcome: “cultural assertion.”

The double jhappi between the leaders of the two global superpowers is more significant than the semi-literate Sangh Parivar missionaries of medievalist travesties such as ghar vapasi may ever be able to comprehend.  What Modi is trying to show the world is that India is not merely an economic superpower but also America’s competitor.

But what is the competition about?  That’s the billion dollar question really.  Is it an assertion of the Hindu civilization, as Huntington argued?  Or is it a political dominance, an assertion of power?

“Cultural assertion follows material success,” wrote Huntington.  “Hard power generates soft power,” he added in the same sentence.

That is exactly what Modi is trying to do.  He won’t be satisfied with mere material success.  He is like Hitler who will not be contented with anything less than racial garv.  That’s why he kept mum when the religious institutions of the minority communities in the country were vandalised time and again in different parts of the country including the national capital soon after he ascended the throne in what his minister, Venkaiah Naidu, wanted to be rechristened as Indraprastha or Hastinapur.  That is also why he keeps mum on issues like ghar vapasi.  That is also why the Central Board of Film Certification is being infiltrated with RSS minions.  Even the Central Board of Secondary Education has been similarly infiltrated and the history textbooks are being tinkered with. 

And yet, Modi is not a man to keep mum.  It is simply not in his nature to do that.  As an Aam Aadmi Party leader, Kumar Vishwas, said yesterday, “There was one prime minister who never spoke for ten years and there is another now who doesn’t stop talking.”  And yet, Modi chooses silence on certain issues.  We (should) know why.

He won’t say.  He would rather hug Barack Obama in what the most famous magazine of the latter’s country (which put Modi on its cover a couple of years back and called him “the most polarizing politician in India”) labels “a Soviet-style jamboree” and engage us, the gullible citizens, with Man ki baat on the All India Radio.

Wish you all a highly entertaining, patriotism-injecting, goose bump-raising Republic Day.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Godse, God and a little history

Indian history is poised to take some interesting diversions.  One of the many rewritings will be the deification of Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi.  The Hindu Mahasabha has been threatening (or promising, depending on which side you are) to construct a temple with Godse as the deity.   As India is going to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its secular Constitution in a function solemnised by none other than the President of a country which exported secularism whenever it found it opportunistic to do so, it may be worthwhile to take a look at the contribution of the new god being added to the country's overcrowded pantheon. 

Poona, 15 August 1947 – a flashback adapted from Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

Independence from British rule is being celebrated.  The flag slowly moving up the staff in the centre of the 500 men assembled is not the flag of the independent India.  It is a saffron triangle with the swastika emblazoned on it.

The swastika was on the saffron flag for the same reason as it had been on the banners of Hitler’s Third Reich.  The men gathered about it in Poona were all members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS].  Though India had extricated itself from a protracted alien rule, the men around the fascist flag in Poona cherished another historic dream, to reconstitute a Hindu Empire that stretched from the Indus River to Burma (Myanmar), from Tibet to Kanyakumari.  They despised Gandhi and his vision founded on religious tolerance, love of truth and nonviolence.  They held that the Hindus were the descendants of the Aryans, the people for whom Hitler committed unforgettable and unforgivable atrocities.  The Hindu Empire should only have those Aryans and not the descendants of the Mughals or the British colonisers.

The man standing in front of the gathering in Poona was Nathuram Godse, a man who would soon commit national parricide and then wait for over six decades in the tomb of history to be resurrected as nothing less than a god.  He was then just 37 years old.  With pads of baby fat still clinging to his cheeks, he looked innocent if not divine.  He delivered a moving rhetoric to the 500 listeners.  He told them that India was not yet free.  It contained people who were still alien.  All because of that man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 

The RSS had made no significant contribution to the freedom struggle.  In fact, at times it colluded with the British government.  Now when the British had left, Godse felt like a great leader. 

“All his life, from his school examinations through half a dozen trades, Nathuram Godse had been a failure at everything he’d undertaken.”  [Quoted verbatim from Freedom at Midnight]  Religion, particularly religious extremism, is a handy tool for such people.  Godse plunged into his religion, delved deep, swam in it and emerged as a polemicist.  Now he saw for himself a new role which he would carry out with vengefulness.  Not only that, he would also make sure that his soul would transmigrate into the very air of India and remain there for six and a half decades... and then transmute into a god, yet another god in the country of infinite gods.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Another God is Born

Subramaniam had no idea where he had been.  All he could remember was the shipwreck and the lifeboat which he was pushed on to along with a few others.  The huge waves that tossed the boat up and down.

When he opened his eyes a few men, naked except for the rags tied round their groins, were standing round his staring into his eyes.  There was fear in those eyes as much as curiosity.  A couple of the men carried a bow and arrow each. 

It didn’t take him long to realise that he had landed up on the island of some primitive people.  His ship had wrecked in the South Indian Ocean.  The people spoke a language that was curiously similar to Subramaniam’s own.  After all, his was a classical language, one of the oldest in the sub-continent called India, one which withstood many onslaughts from languages of the North.  At any rate, his ability to communicate with the island people did not surprise Subramaniam too much since he had read Gulliver’s Travels and knew that Gulliver could communicate with people who spoke languages which had nothing common with his own.

The people on the island turned out to be more friendly than Subramaniam would have hoped for given the context which he had left a few days back.  He came from a peninsula on which people were being hunted out for questioning the government.  Emergency, they called it.  “India is Indira and Indira is India” and such slogans had become popular. People who refused to bow to the divinity of the new Bharatmata vanished from the society.  Subramaniam’s best friends had all been arrested.  A few of them just vanished.  No one knew where such people went.  Slogans resounded in the vacuum created by “vanished” people.  “Talk less, work more,” “Be Indian, Buy Indian,” “Efficiency is our watchword,” and so went the slogans that bewitched a whole subcontinent.  Subramaniam must now count among the many “vanished” persons though he had just run away to escape being caught by the over-zealous police personnel of the Government of sweet slogans.

Soon Subramaniam became a hero on the pristine island.  He brought them civilisation.  He was a student of engineering and so he knew how to civilise a pristine island.  Civilised buildings replaced the huts made of mud and leaves.  People learnt to assert “I”, “my” and “mine”.  Currency was introduced.  Trade followed.  People began to buy and sell things which they had hitherto shared freely.  They made theories about what was right and what was wrong.  They made rule so that people’s liberties could be curtailed. They made boundaries and borders.

In the meanwhile, Subramaniam managed to collect enough materials to construct a hot air balloon.  When the balloon was ready to take off, he said goodbye to the people whom he had civilised.  They shed tears on the ascent of their Messiah into the heavens.

Four decades passed.

Another era of resounding slogans rose on the subcontinent.  “Good governance,” “Swachch Bharat,” “Ghar Vapasi” and “Make in India” resounded in the air.  The subcontinent once again witnessed goose bumps sprouting on its nationalist skins.  People did not start vanishing, however, though the Cassandras began to see auguries and omens of imminent vanishing acts.  Priests and oracles drew the boundaries and borders between Us and Them.  Some of Them were lured to become Us.

Subramaniam felt nostalgia for the primitive island which he had civilised four decades ago.  He found a way to reach there.

He was amused as well as surprised to see temples on the island with his image in the place of the deity.  He had become a God, the God, on the island.

Subramaniam was not a fraud, however.  He told the Elder (who was his bosom friend four decades ago) that he was just an ordinary human being with some skills which they had not yet developed when he entered their island.

“No, no,” protested the Elder.  “You are our God.”

Subramaniam protested more vehemently.

“Please,” pleaded the Elder, “leave this place immediately before anyone recognises you.  All the morals of this island are bound around the myth and if the people come to know that you did not ascend into heaven they will all become wicked.”

Subramaniam walked silently back to the boat that awaited him on the coast.

Note: Inspired by the ‘Sun Child’ in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon Revisited.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tyranny of the Majority

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” said Mark Twain.  Some members of the ruling BJP seem to have become so intoxicated with power that they are ranting and raving like people bereft of their sense.  It is time for them to pause and reflect.  And it is time for the Prime Minister to pause his reflection.

A few days ago, Sakshi Maharaj advised the Hindu women of India to have four children each.  Now the Shankaracharya of Badrikashram orders the Hindu women to have ten children each.  Of course, the women aren’t so foolish as to take such exhortations to heart.  So nothing will change.  Yet it is worth asking the question: What motivates the Maharaj and the Acharya (supposedly wise people) to make such statements? 

Do they think that the population of India is skewed against the Hindus?  Below are two diagrams that illustrate the population of people belonging to different religions, according to the 2011 Census of India.  In diagram 1, the Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are shown separately and in diagram 2 they are added along with the Hindus since the Hindus in India consider them as extensions of their own religion. 

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

The Hindus form the vast majority of the population in the country.  What cause do they have for fear from the minority?  The sheer sizes of the populations should be enough to embolden the majority community in the country.

What is the motive of the Maharaj and the Acharya?  Do they want to eliminate the minority communities from the country?  Is it necessary to burden the planet with more of the dangerous species called human beings for that?  With the present strength, can’t the Hindus in India eliminate the minority communities?  Aren’t the military forces, paramilitary forces, police forces and political forces all with the majority community?  Can’t they use those forces and eliminate the minority communities without burdening the women with a lifetime of pregnancies?

The leaders of RSS continue to demand a Hindu Rashtra.  Even two days back Mohan Bhagwat made Rabindranath Tagore squirm in his tomb by using the latter’s words for advocating a Hindu Rashtra.  On the day of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom, the Hindu Mahasabha is planning to erect a temple with the Mahatma’s killer as the presiding deity! 

What is happening to the country called India?

Who are the BJP, the RSS and other such organisations trying to hoodwink?  And for what?  I think the nation deserves an answer from the Prime Minister.  He cannot afford to emulate the former PM whose maun was the butt of Mr Modi’s endless ridicule.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Scholar, Politician and Priest

Historical Fiction

“He is a mere scholar, he can never rule the people,” declared Napoleon Bonaparte as he signed the dismissal of Pierre-Simon Laplace as the Minister of Internal Affairs.  “Six weeks in power and what has he contributed?” thundered the Emperor.  “He sees subtleties everywhere, conceives problems instead of solutions and thinks in terms of infinity and infinitesimal.”

Laplace was happy to be out of power.  He never wanted any political power in the first place.  But the Emperor wanted the most intelligent people to be in the government.  What has power got to do with intelligence?  Laplace did not ask that however.

In the solitude and peace of powerlessness, Laplace perfected the Newtonian solar system.  Mediocre people wish to become stars on the earth.  Intelligent people wander among the stars in the heavens.  Newton was one such star who lived among stars.  But even he needed a divine hypothesis to answer certain problems in his scientific model.  Laplace pushed God out of the scientific model.

The news reached Napoleon.  The scientist was summoned. 

“The Emperor wants to see the toys,” thought Laplace.  By “toys” he meant the orrery, the mechanical model of the solar system, that he had made.

”Where’s God in the model?” demanded the Emperor as he watched it with some curiosity.

“This model does not require that hypothesis,” said Laplace.

“But God is the ultimate hypothesis that explains everything,” exclaimed the Emperor wondering how Laplace could dismiss such a valuable hypothesis so casually.

The cosmos does not require God, Laplace said to himself.  But Emperors require Him.  All those who seek to subjugate human beings in one form or another require Him.  Science does not need God.

Yet when he reached home, he concluded the letter to his son by writing, “May God watch over your days.  Let Him be always present to your mind.”

God is the eternal law, the law that governs the cosmos.  The law of gravity is God.  F = ma is God.  These laws don’t play politics.  They don’t hanker after power.  They don’t subjugate anyone or anything.  They liberate, in fact.  It is only man and the man-made gods that subjugate.

“Ah! We chase after phantoms.”  He murmured to himself many times.   

Laplace allowed one such phantom to give him the last rites as he lay dying a few years later.  The phantoms needed to prove that the scholar and the scientist was a believer in religion and God.  The priest who gave the last sacrament to Laplace proclaimed the pulpit while delivering the Sunday sermon, “Laplace died uttering the words ‘We chase after phantoms’.  My dear people of God, Laplace died denouncing science and its discoveries as phantoms....”

But Napoleon the Great knew better.  While he awaited his end on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon the Emperor-no-more said to General Gaspard Gourgaud, “I often asked Laplace what he thought of God.  He owned that he was an atheist.”

The scholar died.  His lifeless body was given all the ceremonies which the scholar would have found amusing had he been alive.  Would he have protested, however?  Could he?  After all, what is a scholar vis-à-vis the Priest and the Politician?

 PS. Only the telescoping of time is fiction in the above story. It's all history.  And the history is repeating itself even today, especially in India.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


“What is an illusion?” asked Rahul when he caught up with me during my stroll on the campus after dinner.  I was used to a lot of such questions from Rahul, one of my favourite students.

“Look at the sky,” I said.  A few stars were visible notwithstanding Delhi’s polluted skies.  “Do you think all those are real stars?”

“Aren’t they?”   Rahul was confused.  “We are seeing them.”

“Yes, we are seeing them.  Do you know how many years it takes for the light of a star to reach us here on the earth?”

“The light from the nearest star takes more than 4 light years,” said Rahul.

“Good,” I said.  “It takes many more years for the light from the other stars to reach us.  Many of the stars die by the time their light is seen by us here on the earth.  So how many of those stars are real?”

“Sir,” Rahul appeared slightly confused. “Are you suggesting that what is not real is an illusion.”

“Well, almost,” said I.  “But the light is real, isn’t it, even if the star is no more now?”


“Imagine some human being who begins to trace the source of that light whose star is already dead.  Imagine he has some way of tracing the source.  And he finds that there really is no source.  Then he begins to interpret the light in his own way.  He thinks that it is a special light, a revelation from some divine entity, a revelation directed at him.  He begins to see himself as some God’s Messenger...”

“A godman?” asked Rahul.

“OK, let’s call him that.  Our Godman assumes that he is a prophet of god, a messiah of the people, or something like that.  He begins to hear god speaking to him.  He writes them down and calls it scriptures.  People come to listen to the new scriptures.  A religion or a cult is born.  It creates its own truths.  Thousands, if not millions, of people believe in those truths.  These truths create new rules like how we should wear our dress, which part of the body can be revealed and which to be covered, which are the places where people can kiss each other, whom to love and whom to hate, who can learn what and how much...”

“Sir, I’ve understood what illusions are,” said Rahul.  “Why do people accept the illusions so willingly and easily?”

“Illusions bring comfort in times of distress,” I said.  “It is easier to bear some loss in life or some misfortune if we believe that there is a divine entity sitting up somewhere there in the skies watching us and looking after us whatever misfortunes may befall us.”

“Is that the only use of illusions?”

“Not at all,” I said. “You can use illusions for gaining political power, higher positions in society, to become a godman or man-god, to seize other people’s land and other possessions...”

As Rahul walked away having thanked me and wished me good night, I looked at the stars once again.  “Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya.”  Did I hear them say that?  I smiled to myself.  Even if I did hear it, I wouldn’t be able to claim any new revelation.  Somebody had revealed that already long ago, some 3000 years ago.  3000 years of longing to be led from darkness to light.  A long longing, I mused.

PS. Rahul is an illusion.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kiran Bedi has made the right choice

Dr Kiran Bedi has finally landed in the Emperor’s camp and that was expected.  It was clear from the days of India Against Corruption that her ultimate goal was political power.  When she understood that Arvind Kejriwal was not the kind who could sway the masses as effectively as Narendra Modi, she made the right choice.  Who can blame her?  Why blame at all?

Was Kiran Bedi an epitome of moral values and any kind of principles at any time?  Yes, as a police officer she did make significant contributions particularly towards making the prison system in India more effective and productive.  She was a good police officer. 

Was she above blame?  In 1992 she got her daughter admission for MBBS course in Delhi’s Hardinge College by manipulating the quota for the tribal students of the North-east.  Ms Bedi (not Dr at that time) offered many justifications for her act but nobody who knew the facts would have bought her explanations.

Later her NGO came under the scanner for manipulating the flight charges of some of her hosts for monetary gains.  Once again she offered explanations which were absolutely spurious.  

In fact, politics cannot afford to have moral values and principles.  Dr Bedi has chosen the right profession.  And the right party, because she will be a winner.  AAP could not have been quite the right party for her.  I wish her all the best.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thanks, Rekha

Rekha found my blog inspiring and decided to honour me with an award.  I don’t want to be ungrateful.  So let me fulfil the obligations imposed by the honour.

I am to state 7 things about myself and that’s one of the easiest things I can do since I have a fairly inflated ego. 

1.     The biggest challenge I face day in and day out is to keep my ego under control.  It is like an elephant that loses its self-control for no fault of its own.
2.     I love to make friends but never succeed in the attempts because of my own personal limitations.  So I choose to be contented with virtual friends ranging from Dostoevsky to Mario Vargas Llosa as well as quite a few bloggers.
3.     I have very few prejudices in spite of the numerous allegations to the contrary (that I am a highly prejudiced person) and I cling to those prejudices tenaciously.  In spite of those prejudices, I am more broadminded and open to new ideas and possibilities than my well-wishers may be willing to grant.
4.     I am an armchair critic.  I would like to be more than that.  For example, I would like to move out of the beaten track and do something real for the poor and oppressed people of the country who are always victims of false promises and dubious policies irrespective of which party is in power.  But my own personal drawbacks and lack of courage keep me pinned to the cosy chair of the critic.  The position gives me as much gratification as the seats in the Parliament must be giving to the eminent leaders of the people.
5.     I love teaching.  It is an extension of the armchair critic’s job.  Youngsters are easy to work with in more ways than the ever-busy parents and school administrators are willing to accept.
6.     I dream a lot.  I am a romantic at heart.  I could put to shame Keats and Shelley if I were to write down my dreams in lines like “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” or “The more we study, the more we discover our ignorance.”
7.     The romantic dreamer within me is mercifully suppressed by the diehard cynic.  The constant rivalry between them has been a tremendous learning experience for me though not always funny.
Rekha, my gratitude to you wears out the moment I look at the next obligation entailed.  There are too many inspiring bloggers.  And you’re asking me to list just 15!

Well, let me exercise my judiciousness to the best of my abilities and intentions.

Here is my constellation for now. (In an absolutely random order)

1.     Frozen Moments – Indrani inspires with delightful photos.
2.     Inspire99 – Vinay has taken it on himself as a duty to inspire the world and he is successful.
3.     I News India – Alok Vats is another blogger who has taken upon himself the onerous task of inspiring the world.
4.     Scattered Thoughts – Maniparna Sengupta Majumder has a uniquely ingenuous way of inspiring and enlightening.
5.     I am – Amrita Sabat is on the eternal path to discover her boundless potential offering us some valuable glimpses in the process. Amrita, I must tell you that I found some of your comments on my posts highly encouraging.
6.     Mumbai Daily brings alive the metropolis before our eyes with vivid and telling pictures.
7.     Random Photography – Deepa has an amazing talent with the pictures.
8.     Words – Saru’s poetry is a world of inspiration.
9.     Tirta’s Travel Blog – something I stumbled upon recently
10.                        Sunshine n Blue Clouds – Kokila has the freshness of the dawn and the blue skies
11.                        You and I – Uppal has the wisdom of experience.
12.                        Creofire won’t need any endorsement from me, I’m sure.
13.                        Firoze Shakir is a marvel for me in numerous ways.  Here’s one whose heart is steeped in poetry.
14.                        A-Musing – Purba is sheer delight.  The magic of words and humour.
15.                        Rajesh Prabhu is a versatile blogger who inspires in triple ways.

Rekha, I know I have not abided by the entire process.  Forgive me.  Time permits only this much.  Thank you once again for making me do this much.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Room for Hope

The Times of India reports today (13 Jan) that Mr Amit Shah is going to issue a show cause notice to Sakshi Maharaj for continuing to make noises that are inconvenient for the BJP though they are in tune with the theme of the party’s hidden agenda.  People like Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Jyoti are the religious faces of the party, while Mr Modi and Mr Shah are the political faces.  For the former certain medieval beliefs and practices are the truths, while for the latter those beliefs and practices are mere ploys for attaining and retaining political power.  It is possible that those beliefs and practices have some value for Mr Modi and Mr Shah too since they seem to be harbouring a hidden agenda: creating a Hindu Rashtra in India.  But transforming a nation from one constitutional system to another is not very easy, they know.  Bringing about the transformation by force will engender violence and bloodshed.  Neither Mr Modi nor Mr Shah want a civil war in the country.  That is one reason for hope.

But I see a little more room for hope.  If Mr Shah and his party are really going to focus on the development theme and sideline the religious theme, it will affect the thinking of the public in a significant manner.  The public are gullible and credulous.  They will actually begin to think that the religious themes are being buried and they will actually begin to focus on development and related tasks.  It will be a significant change of mindset.  It can be good enough for redeeming the country from regressing into the kind of medievalism that guides the thoughts and actions of the Maharaj and the Sadhvi and the like.

The harsh reality may be that the opulent corporate sector that has hijacked the present union government for their own benefits is demanding a short leash on the tongues of the medievalist elements in the Parliament.  Today’s capitalism is quite different from its aristocratic counterpart of the medieval period.  And the capitalists who uphold the vibrancy in Mr Modi’s very own Gujarat and hope to spread that vibrancy to other states whose resources are waiting for the pulsating touches of neoliberal economics don’t want to miss their opportunities.

Neoliberal capitalism is preferable to obscurantist medievalism. 

PS. I had vowed a few years ago to write in as simple a style as possible so that my writing is accessible to the very ordinary reader.  I’m afraid I have to renege on that vow as my writing is attracting certain elements that I would prefer to keep at a distance. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hindu students in Muslim madrasas

A madrasa in Mandsaur
Courtesy The Hindu
Hindus and Muslims still live together in India cooperating with each other.  Today’s Hindu newspaper carries a report on the front page with the headline ‘Mandsaur’s inclusive madrasas.’  Mandsaur is a district in Madhya Pradesh which has 128 madrasas with a total of 5500 students.  In 78 of these madrasas, Hindu students outnumber their Muslim friends, says the report.  630 of the 865 teachers are Hindus.  Images of goddess Saraswati and Ajmer Sharif coexist in peace and harmony on the walls of the classrooms. 

One must be thankful to The Hindu, I thought as I read the report, for highlighting such inclusiveness when far too many Indians are driven crazy by religious fundamentalism.  This blog post is my humble attempt to express my gratitude to the newspaper as much as for celebrating the inclusiveness. It is also an earnest plea.

One of the questions I have raised time and again in the classroom as a teacher is how many of my students have read any of their religious scriptures.  The answer has invariably been nil except for the comic strip versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  Most students (all Hindus) had no idea about what the Vedas were all about.  Quite many of them had not even the faintest idea about the the Upanishads, let alone their profundity.  Yet some of these students today are staunch supporters of fundamentalist activities such as Ghar Vapasi. 

Ignorance is the primary breeding ground of fundamentalism of any sort.  Those who understand and internalise religion will never fight for it.  Those for whom religion is merely a tool for something (political power, social status, identity source, etc) wield it as precisely that: a tool.  It is such people who foment strife and violence in the name of religion. 

Religion is basically about a set of values and principles.  Gods and commandments, canons and rituals are only tools for helping the believer understand and internalise those values and principles.  Values and principles make an individual a pro-active person who makes meaningful contributions to the society.  Hatred and violence cannot find any place in their value system.

The 128 madrasas in Mandsaur should make us sit up and do some serious reflection and examination of our value system.

Let me conclude this with an email written in response to my last post by a friend who is a Catholic priest and a professor of philosophy. 

Dear Tomichan,
This might enlighten you.
Karl Rahner, the greatest Catholic theologian of 20th Century, and in many ways, turned the tide of Critical thinking, through Vatican II and beyond, was invited to lecture in Japan, on Religion. He had the view of Anonymous Christian/ity, which meant, in simple terms, that any human being was an Anonymous Christian, from a Christian's point of view. After the lecture was over, Suzuki, the Buddhist asked him, " Dr Rahner, if that is the case, would you mind being called by me, an " Anonymous Buddhist". Rahner shook hands with him and said, " Why not? Absolutely so."

Karl Rahner and Suzuki are persons who have internalised their religions.  My friend who wrote this letter is also one such person.  And he knows, I believe, that I am a person who has internalised my atheism.  

This post is a plea for such internalisations.  This post is a plea against ignorance and the strife caused by it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Religion and Intolerance

The book which I am now reading is God is not great: How religion poisons everything by Christopher Hitchens.  In the very first chapter the author says: “Religious faith is, precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, ineradicable.  It will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other.  For this reason, I would not prohibit it even if I thought I could.” [emphasis in original]

The author is an atheist.  His book is a serious philosophical critique of religion.  Yet he is generous enough to let religions be.  That is the spirit of all genuine atheists.  All genuine atheists I have come across so far display similar generosity and tolerance.  By genuine, I mean atheism chosen by an individual after due consideration, reflection and understanding. 

Hitchens goes on to ask a question: But will the religious grant me the same indulgence?”  A few lines later, he says that religion is incapable of leaving others alone.  Religious people, he says, are always “in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments... Religion poisons everything.”

The attack on a publication in Paris is yet another tragic proof of what Hitchens is saying.  Religions are by their very nature intolerant.  We are witnessing the rise of such intolerance in India too. 

I fail to understand, however much I think about it, why religious people can’t leave others alone.  What makes the religious people think that their truth is the sole truth, absolute truth, nothing but the truth, when there are so many ways of disproving most of their claims?  I would be thrilled if any religious person can answer this one question to my satisfaction.

PS: I admit that there are religious people who are very tolerant.  A few of my close friends are very religious and they never question my lack of religious faith.  May their tribe increase!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can I marry the person I love?

Durga Vahini poster
"Can I marry the person I love"? my daughter confronted me with the question.

"Well," I fumbled.  What could I answer?  In the pre-Modi days I would have said something like, "Can I talk to him before I give an answer?  What kind of a person is he? Good enough to look after you?"  But in the Modi days I stand more confounded than Ann Frank's father was when Ann's nubile sister was asked to submit herself to the Nazis.

"What well?" she demanded. This is the problem with today's generation.  They want immediate answers like instant coffee.  Or chai or instant conversions.

I'm old.  I don't wear the bottoms of my trousers folded.  I don't dye my hair.  I don't shave my beard just like my Prime Minister.

"Darling," I put on the best tone I could muster.  Not master, of course.  Only Mr Modi is the master now.

"You have to get the permission from Durga Vahini, not me," I said candidly avoiding the ums and errs.

"What's Durga Yoni?" she asked.

"Gosh!" I said to myself.  "Don't you watch the TV?  The Durga Yoni, I mean Durga Vahini, has asked Kareena Kapoor to divorce her husband and return home.  Ghar Vapsi, they call it."

"What the f**k does that mean?"

"I don't know, dear," I opened my palms helplessly.  We now live in a country ruled by an emperor whose organs decide who will love whom and marry whom.

She spat out and walked away.

What am I to do? Old man with shrivelling veins?  I want to help my daughter.  But I want to be a patriot too.

PS. I have no children.  Given the situation in India, I'm glad.

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...