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Showing posts from February, 2015

Snakes and Ladders

When Ram and Lakshman sat down to play snakes and ladders, Manthara told them, “For every ladder you climb, remember there’s a snake waiting to swallow you.” Some snakes will swallow you even before you climb any ladder, Ram realised years later.  If you are a potential climber, snakes are more eager to swallow you because they know swallowing is difficult once you have actually climbed.  My ladders were removed even before I reached them, thought Rama.  First Kaikeyi, then Ravana, and then the very people of Ayodhya, they all took away the ladder just as I approached it.  I took revenge on Ravana, but did I regain my Sita?  So what use was it all?  I ascended the throne of Ayodhya.  For what?  To see Sita walk into the flames? You lacked the courage to stand up to people, said Lakshman.  You were more concerned with your image, the facade of the Maryada Purushottam.  Lakshman was chagrined when his role model and hero consigned his wife, the most chaste woman, to the f

Bharatanatyam and roti-making

“Give us our daily bread...” is a prayer I used to recite a number of times every day until I gave up religion in the mid-1980s.  It was when I gave up reciting the prayer that it became meaningful for me in any way.  Until then I just had to go the dining room at the stroke of the bell and my daily bread would be waiting having taken various avatars like idli or cooked rice or the pan-Indian chapatti with their necessary and delicious accompaniments.  When I took up my first teaching job in Shillong where I stayed all alone in a rented house made of tin and wood, the only cooking I knew was to boil things like rice, vegetables and eggs.  I survived pretty well on the fat-free diet and slimmed down rapidly without spending a single paisa in any calorie-burning centre or on any treadmill.  The daily bread for breakfast came from the nearest baker who eventually advised me to cut down on bread and extend the boiled diet to breakfast too.  “A little bit of rice in the morning is ten t

Shakuntala’s many Ghar Vapsis

What am I?  A thistledown that rises on the wings of the breeze only to be beaten down to the earth by the mildest drizzle?  You push me around too much.  I want to stick to something somewhere for good. My mother thought it fit to dump me in the forest after her dalliance with Vishwamitra was over.  My first longing for Ghar Vapsi rose amidst buzzing of bees and the tickling gurgles of the Malini.  I longed to be in the lap of my mother sucking love at her breasts, being looked on with fond admiration by my father.  But they both had their gods as convenient excuses.  Mother was performing a duty assigned to her by her gods.  I was a by-product that could be discarded.  Noboy understood my yearning for a Ghar Vapsi.  Vishwamitra, my dad, dumped me on grounds of asceticism.  What does asceticism mean shorn of love?  If a man can dump his own flesh and blood in the shape of an innocent little baby, what is the value of his asceticism?  The question made me long for another kind

Mother Teresa and Mohan Bhagwat

  If Mother Teresa had indeed converted a lot of Indians, as alleged by Mohan Bhagwat, would India have been a better place?   Would there be less hatred and violence, more tolerance and compassion? One thing is clear at least.  Mohan Bhagwat and his organisation along with the affiliates of that organisation have not learnt anything more than the hatred that spills out of every page of their holy scriptures, We, Our nationhood Defined written in 1939.  Read any writing by people associated with Bhagwat’s organisation and you will feel hatred boiling inside your veins and seeping into the marrow of your bones with the fury of concentrated sulphuric acid. For example, let me take a page out of Pracharak Jiwan , autobiography of Krishna Gopal Rastogi, senior RSS pracharak.  See how Rastogi describes an incident that happened when he was leading an armed group of his supporters to attack the Muslims in Kaliar (a town situated between Roorkee and Haridwar). Available at onl

Frogs in the well

Fable Frog was trying to catch Fly for his breakfast when Snake came crawling through the grass.  Hunger is what drives Frog, Fly and Snake.  Escaping from the other’s hunger is the art of living.  Frog leaped away from Snake.  He had not been careful enough, however. It was a blind leap.  Frog had no time to practise what his grandmother had taught him: “Look before you leap.”  Frog was descending rapidly into darkness.  But he could soon hear the croaks of other frogs.  He hit water.  He had reached the bottom of a well. Soon all the frogs in the well gathered around him.  From the tiny tots to the grandpas and grandmas, all the frogs croaked away in wonder until one frog who looked like a leader said, “You are the Avatar of God.  You have descended from Heaven to save us.”  All the frogs in the well fell prostrate in front of Frog. Frog was not a fraud, however.  “I’m not any avatar of any god.  I was trying to save myself from Snake but did not have the time to lo

Dilwale Dilliwale

Delhi has a heart and the popular phrase Dilwale Dilliwale may not be a gross exaggeration.  Yesterday I attended a Partners’ Meet organised by World Vision India.  My being a sponsor of a child through the NGO is one of the many paradoxes that constitute me.  I’m not religious at all.  I’m a staunch critic of religions.  I know that religion has been a cause of strife and wars throughout the documented history of mankind.  Yet, quite a few years ago, when I decided to do something meaningful for at least one child in the country I chose World Vision which proudly proclaims itself as a Christian organisation.  The reason was simple: I wanted an NGO that will put my monthly contribution to good use.  It was after sufficient research that I chose World Vision. A song from World Vision's children Until yesterday I was under the false impression that most of World Vision’s sponsors and donors were Christians.  The capacious Sathya Sai Baba Auditorium was nearly filled wi

Temples and Power

“The construction of a temple, Buddhist or Hindu, was an important political act, indeed as much an act of war as it was an act of peace,” says John Keay in his book, India: a History .  Religion has always been inextricably intertwined with politics.  Christianity would probably have been wiped out from the face of the earth unless it had succeeded in enlisting Emperor Constantine’s devotion.  One of the first things Constantine did after embracing his new Faith was to construct a huge church in Constantinople, his new capital.  He also constructed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the place where Jesus’ tomb was/is believed to have been. All powerful kings and emperors built enormous churches, temples or other places of worship.  Most of the fabulous temples in India were constructed by powerful rulers in the ancient days.  The purpose was not so much worship of god(s) as proclamation or exhibition of worldly power.  Heavenly gods and earthly kings have joined hands for var

Cheap Gods

“Are gods so cheap?” asked Kelu when the Ghar Vapsi thugs offered him Rs10,000.  “If you demand more you won’t get even this,” said one of the thugs flexing his muscles.  Kelu saw another one twirling his moustache. Kelu could not blame them.  It was he who informed them about his desire to convert back into Hinduism.  The only condition he posited was: “Get me and all other members of the family scheduled caste certificates.” Kelu’s ancestors belonged to a caste of “untouchable” people.  They worked for the higher caste people who possessed everything from the lands to the gods.  Kelu’s people were never allowed to earn enough money to buy even the tiniest piece of land.  They were not allowed to read the scriptures.  If by chance they heard the scriptures being recited, molten lead would be poured into their ears.  Their women had to be bare-breasted especially when the men of the higher castes passed by.  Kelu’s parents worked in the oil mills in those days of un

Systems and Perversions

  The last quarter of the 20 th century witnessed the emergence of the systems perspective in contrast to the reductionist approach that was followed earlier.   The reductionist approach viewed phenomena by their parts and treated them as such.   For example, if you have a headache you kill the pain with an Anacin ignoring the harms done to the body by the drug.   In the systems perspective, you look at the whole rather than the parts.   You use available knowledge and technology to find out the root cause of the headache and make the whole system healthy.   Any system such as the human body or a society is not just the sum of its parts.  A system is a complex and inter-related network of interacting components.  Relationships among the components are of vital importance in any system.  India is not just a sum of its states and union territories (Gujarata-Maratha-Dravida-Utkala) or a sum of the various religious communities (Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai).  Any nation is much mor

Beyond Religion and Superstition

Over half a century ago, behavioural psychologist B F Skinner conducted a study with a group of pigeons in order to understand superstitious behaviour.  He used some simple technique to produce a certain physical response from the pigeons.  It was a response like raising a wing on the application of a stimulus. When the wing was raised, the pigeon’s behaviour was reinforced by giving it food.  The stimulus-response-reinforcement combo was repeated many times.  Finally the bird began to associate the behaviour (raising the wing) with the getting of food.  It thought that it got food because it raised its wing.  A superstition was born. Superstition is a mistaken understanding of the cause-effect relationship.  A few days back I was walking along the road when a cat, a black one at that, crossed the road in front of me.  There was only one other man walking in front of me when the incident took place.  He was rendered motionless as if struck dead by lightning.  He spat out hatefu


Whatever happens to me and is beyond my control is my destiny.  Natural calamities like earthquakes are beyond my control.  If I happen to be in a place where the terrorists have planted a bomb, that’s my destiny.  Accidents, diseases or other chance occurrences can alter my destiny in ways I could not have foreseen.  The stars that shine in the firmament above me are as much part of my destiny as is the darkness that descends ineluctably into the nooks and crannies along the way.     What I am is my destiny.  What I am is not entirely beyond my control, I know.  Except my genes and hormones.  Except the environment that brought me up and certain impacts of that upbringing.  “I am the sum total of everything that went before me...,” as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Child says, “of everything done-to-me.”  I am a product of the history that went before me as much as the one that is unfolding around me.  The martyrdom of two Prime Ministers of my country is part of my destiny as mu

Books, Fairs and Frivolousness

The World Book Fair is the latest entertainment in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.  The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) (always a handmaiden of the Central Government) has sent out a directive to schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) asking them to take students to the Book Fair with a view to encourage reading habits among the young generation. Ten years ago, I took a group of students to the World Book Fair with the noble intention that CBSE is now envisaging.  The students were ingenious enough to find ways of entertaining themselves in places other than the book stalls.  While returning to school I discovered that barring one student nobody had bought a book.  Most of them had not even entered the Book Fair!  (Credit must be given for their candidness in admitting that.) Today’s students are enslaved by the smartphone and the tablet.  While these gadgets can take one to the world of infinite knowledge, they actually end up as drugs that pander to the narci

And quiet flowed the Beas

The Beas sparkled like molten silver with the gentle touch of the morning sun.  It could not assuage the mutiny that was mounting among Alexander’s soldiers, however. How long and how far?  Coenus, the general of Alexander’s army, raised the question.  We have come a long way in search of some mirage.  We have bathed in the Tigris and the Indus, played in the Nile and the Euphrates, sailed across the Oxus and the Jaxartes.  We breathed the air of deserts, mountains, steppes and fields.  We trudged miles and miles, thousands of miles.  Of victory, booty, glory and novelty, we’ve had our fill. Alexander looked into Coenus’s eyes. He saw longing in them.  Longing for wife.  For children.  Father and mother.  No harlot can ever replace the touch of the wife.  No victory can match the smiles of your children.  Eight years.  They’ve been away from their homeland for eight years. But we are conquerors, said Alexander.  Conquest is our way, our life, and our truth.  There is no

Angela and Indian Politics

Selknam people who became extinct in 1974 because of Us-Them division made by ? When Angela Loij died in 1974, a tribe became extinct.  Angela was the last surviving woman of the Selknam tribe in Chile, South America.  Communism still survives in Latin America. Prakash Karat, one of the surviving Communists in India wants to join the AAP. Karat and his wife Brinda are supposed to be intellectuals. AAP belongs to ... Whom? The Anarchist Who should be relegated to the forest, as suggested by the Prime Minister of the country who claimed to belong to the working class but behaves more like a King of some buried era? Angela, the  Romantic fools still allowed to survive in India mourn the extinction of your race. Not for your sake.  Not at all for the sake of the colonists who killed your people. For the sake of the future generations. Not for the sake of “unity in uniformity” For which Our leaders want to drive the last nail on some coffins.

Two Kings

“Treat me as a king would treat another king.”  Porus is believed to have said that to Alexander the Great when he was defeated in the war and brought as a prisoner to the latter.  Prime Minister Modi, the invincible King of Indian democracy from 2002 (the year from which the BJP won every election whose campaign was led by Mr Modi), displayed similar chivalry when he rang up the victorious Kejriwal to congratulate him and rather condescendingly offered him a cup of tea in the royal durbar of Chai pe Charcha. Mr Kejriwal was too shocked by the election result to understand the Mr Modi’s condescension.  Not even in the remotest apogee of his imagination had Kejriwal expected to win 67 seats.  Yet he won them.  In spite of all the royal glory that Mr Modi generously lent the campaign.  In spite of the crores of rupees spent on full front page ads in national newspapers. In spite of the defections from both the Congress and the AAP.  In spite of all odds and ends. Dean Nelson

Democracy wins in Delhi

The victory of Mr Arvind Kejriwal and his party in Delhi shows that democracy is not only vibrant in India but also is politically aware and socially responsible.  The people of Delhi rejected Mr Narendra Modi and his kind of politics which benefit only the rich and the powerful or a particular religious community.  A peon in my school told me on the day of the election, “Don’t vote for Modi’s party.”  I asked why.  “It’s the party of people like the Ambanis and the Tatas,” he said.  “Mukesh Ambani bought 4 TV channels after NaMo became the PM.”  He named the channels to me.  He knew that Mr Mukesh Ambani virtually owned 27 TV channels in India.  The Delhi Assembly election shows that Indians are able to see through the colourful masks worn by their leaders.    Mr Modi’s personalised Republic Day suit which reportedly cost Rs10 lakh and other similarly blatant displays of puerile narcissism must have grated on the nerves of a nation which has thousands of people who die of cold

Ghar Vapsi

“... Give us our daily peg and forgive us our hangovers as we forgive those who hang over us...” Moopan had just finished his prayer before decanting his daily quota of Scotch on the rocks as I entered his house.  Moopan is my great grandfather, holder of the wisdom (and vicedom, as he acknowledges) of generations. A Malayalam TV channel was showing a documentary on the Ghar Vapsi being conducted among the poor tribal people in Chhattisgarh.     “It’s always the poor,” said Moopan with his mischievous smile, “who have to keep changing their identity like the chameleon according to the given situation.  Thank god, there is no vapazi in life,” he laughed in his mirthful way.  “Otherwise we would have to return to Mesopotamia or Harappa.” That’s Moopan’s wisdom just for which I visit him every now and then.  He started with Manu himself.  A flood and a god.  Myths begin there.  Myths have to begin somewhere and a flood is an ideal place.  A fish comes to rescue Manu. 

A Voter’s Trek

Road to my booth I chose to be a responsible citizen and voted today in the Delhi Assembly Elections.  At the back of my mind I could sense the smirk of George Orwell’s character in the Animal Farm , Benjamin the Donkey.  “Whoever wins, the lot of the aam animal will remain the same.”  That’s what he would say.  My polling station was a government primary school in a village called Bhatti close to the Haryana border of Delhi.  The road offered my scooter quite a trekking experience.  Some stretches of the road looked like a paddy field recently ploughed and waiting for saplings.  Both the Congress and the BJP were elected from my constituency in the past democratic exercises.  Nothing much has changed in the rural areas over the years except that a few more private houses have come up making the village look more like an urban slum.  That’s development for the rural folk, I guess. Outside the booth The election process itself might bring some temporary benefits

Rhapsody on a Delhi Road

Source: Reuters A winter morning. Sentiments burn the road awoken by the gentle sun, The cathedral spires poking the heaven behind. What have you lost that you cry for? The King was reciting the Bhagavad Gita Ensconced on the throne of Indraprastha. What belongs to you today, belonged to someone yesterday and will be someone else’s tomorrow. The beggars’ kids in tatters With bones gnawed by the fangs of winter Nagged the developed citizens in cars at the lal batti With roses, teddy bears, airplane models, All made in India with Make in India’s plastic. Whose India is it?  Wondered the journo As the King’s police arrived in vans And heckled people who claimed insecurity Not being the King’s own clans. Children bearing placards shouted slogans whose Meanings or future courses were drowned in winter haze. The present, the present is what is yours , Whether you be King on the throne, or beggar on the street, Or a citizen seeking