Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mayank Passes


Mayank had been through countless admission tests.  The worried look on his mother’s face had become a source of guilt for the little boy. 

“I’m sorry, mom,” he consoled his mother.  He didn’t know what else to say.  The way she looked at him with so much pity in her eyes made him feel guilty, guilty of being alive, guilty of having been born.

Mayank was lucky that his father was so busy with his job in the city that he lacked the luxury of the time for worrying about his son.  Otherwise how would he bear to see two dear faces carrying an endless worry named Mayank?  Mother was a teacher in Ananda Vidyashram which belonged to Phenomenananda Baba and faced the threat of extinction.

Mayank was a class 3 student of Ananda Vidyashram.  But when the new session started there were only a handful of students all together in the school.  Phenomenananda Baba was not interested in running the school.  The school was started by his great, great grandfather, Anantananda Baba, as part of his ashram so that wholesome education would be provided free to the children of the locality.  The Babas who succeeded brought about various reforms in the school according to the needs of the times.  The regular rise in the fees, removal of certain facilities and closing down of sections were some such reforms.   Now the school itself faced demolition because Phenomenananda Baba’s increasing number of rich devotees required parking space for their cars.  Mayank’s mother did not want her son to be left in the lurch halfway through the academic session.  So she sought admission for him in any of the reputed public schools in the city.

Mayank failed in every admission test.  Each test seemed to add a new wrinkle on his mother’s forehead.  Each test carried his mother to more and more idols in the temple complex of Phenomenananda Baba’s ashram.  Mother’s purse became lighter; the temple’s donation boxes were the gainers. 

When the letter from the hundredth school came, Mother said, “No, we won’t open it here.  We’ll take this letter to the temple and open it in front of the gods.”  Mayank, his head weighed down by the guilt of being such a burden to his mother, accompanied Mother to Phenomenananda Baba’s temple complex.  The myriad gods waited to be appeased. Mother went from one to the other offering prayers and aratis, tears dropping down her cheeks, the smoke of hope rising from the lamp in offertory tray. Mayank followed her with folded arms.

Having appeased all the gods with whatever was in Mother’s hands including the last coin in her purse, Mother opened the letter from the Hundredth Public School.

A ray of light descended on her face.  The gods and goddesses were now pleased with them.  She hugged Mayank.  “Didn’t I say the gods were kind?”

A monstrous bulldozer was droning along through the gate of Ananda Vidyashram.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

One Part Woman

Book Review

Perumal Murugan’s novel, One Part Woman, which attracted unnecessary controversy in Tamil Nadu recently, is essentially about the fundamental complementarity of the male and the female components of humanity.  “The male and the female together make the world,” as the priest in the Ardhanareeswara temple tells Kali, the protagonist.  Within each individual too there exists both the male and the female components.  Who destroyed that harmonious balance between the male and the female?

Is it the Brahmin who expediently creates and imposes certain rules and regulations on the people?  The novel raises this question when a Brahmin lawyer gets toddy and arrack banned in the Salem district and thus throws the whole Sanar community out of “their traditional livelihood.” 

But the novel never suggests that the Brahmins have been responsible for the loss of certain traditions.  It does not even suggest that the traditions are sacred or useful in any significant ways.  It even questions the gods and people’s faith in them.  Kali, having performed many religious rituals and sacrifices, wonders when the thirst of the gods will be sated. 

Gods and traditions don’t seem to serve profound functions in the actual practical world of human affairs.  In fact, the former can be bent to suit the needs of the latter.  Thus there is a ritual in Tiruchengode when married childless women can mate with a stranger in order to beget an offspring.

For Kali, his wife Ponna is the other half of his very being. He cannot view her as a person apart.  Kali and Ponna together would form an Ardhanareeswara.  But they do not get a child in spite of all their passionate love-making, in spite of all the religious rituals and sacrifices they perform.  Finally the suggestion comes from their mothers that Ponna should find her divine mate during the religious festival. 

Can the supposed sanctity of a religious ritual heal the rupture caused to the sanctity of the marital relationship?  In other words, how does Ponna who has undergone much torment because of her childlessness view the suggestion of finding her divine mate?  How does her view affect Kali for whom Ponna is really not a distinct individual but is the complementary half of himself?

The novel probes the deep relationship that Kali and Ponna have built up, a relationship which cannot apparently be broken by any force.  It also delves into the problem of childlessness which is often believed to be the result of some curse.  It probes the validity of certain religious practices.

Uncle Nallupayyan is a sharp contrast to the sensitive Kali.  Nallupayyan (which ironically means ‘good boy’) does not see any sanctity in human relations.  “If one can freely get the pleasure of a woman without getting married, who would want to get married?” he asks.  For him life is a series of enjoyments and sex is part of that series.  Traditions and religious rituals make no sense to him.  When the village decides to punish him for cutting off his caste’s trademark hair-knot, his answer is: “If the village’s honour resides in my bloody hair, I will grow it.... I don’t even mind growing a beard and a moustache.  I will grow them and sit around like you all, plucking lice from it. But add another thing to it.  It was only yesterday that I shaved off my pubic hair, because it was itching too much.  Now if your village honour is also dependent on my pubic hair, let me know right away.  I will grow that too.”

Kali and Uncle Nallupayyan are contrasting approaches to absurd religious practices.  Kali is tormented by them, while Nallupayyan is able to cast them off with the ease of a snake that sheds its worn-out scales.  The majority lie in between seeking and finding their gods and goddesses in ways that suit them.

Why the resurgent Right Wing was offended by this novel is beyond my comprehension.  It seems they were offended by the mating ritual mentioned in the novel.  Of course, the author makes it amply clear that the ritual took place in the olden days.  The novel is set in the days of the British Raj.  We had many such practices in the ancient days.  The devadasi system, for instance, had its share of kitsch and twitch.  Will the Sangh Parivar demand the ban of all books on such practices?

One Part Woman is a delightful work of art that takes us through certain labyrinths of an old Tamil Nadu village and its religion.  It shows us the various dimensions of religious beliefs and how they keep life going even at the very basic levels of sexual unions, and how they hinder life at times.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Deepika Padukone's Choice

I happened to come across this video by chance.  Loved it for its message, conveyed clearly and powerfully.  Though Ms Padukone is endorsing women empowerment, the message is applicable to all human beings and not just women alone.

Many years ago, another woman, Ayn Rand, made one of her characters say that the savages said, "Hands Up!" while the policy for the civilised world should be "Hands Off!"

"My body, my mind, my choice," says Deepika.  It should be so for everyone.

Why should anyone's mind or body be meddled with by anyone else?

Why should a priest or a fanatic assume that he has the right to impose his truth(s) on others?

Why should a political party decide the course that history should take, let alone the course it already took?

Why should anyone become the guardian of others' morality?

The most courageous act is thinking for yourself.  Aloud.

Do it.

PS. My last short story, The Devil has a Religion, is about how even men (not just women) are denied their choice over their body and mind.

PPS. This post is for adults.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Devil has a Religion


It’s not only the gods but the devils too have specific religions, Maria realised when she saw the devil appearing on her husband’s face fifteen years after she had seen it the last time.

Fifteen years ago, one nondescript autumn afternoon in Shillong, Philip came back from the school where he worked as a mathematics teacher and declared that he had resigned from his job.  Maria was stunned though she had known deep within her all the time that this was coming.  Reverend Father Joseph Potthukandathil, the Headmaster of Saint Joseph’s School where Philip taught, had been rubbing up Philip in the wrong way for a long time, years in fact, assuming that it was every Catholic priest’s canonical burden to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.  Philip not only refused to accept the priest’s gospel but also cocked a snook at it by guzzling peg after peg of brandy sitting in the Marbaniang Bar that stood just a hundred metres away from the church where the priest who dreamt of himself as the Saviour of all the lost sheep in his parish was celebrating the Sunday evening mass.

When Father Joseph did not succeed in his pastoral efforts vis-a-vis Philip-the-black-sheep, he enlisted the support of the entire parish.  He got them to treat Philip with contempt.  ‘Make him realise that the devil has conquered his soul,’ preached Father Joseph to his faithful flock, ‘and treat him like a street dog  so that he will feel the thirst for Our Lord’s grace in his fiendish soul.’

‘Praise the Lord! Alleluia!’ responded the faithful flock.

The more Father Joseph and his faithful sheep tried to induce in Philip the thirst for their Lord’s grace, the more Philip drank brandy slouching in Marbaniang Bar.  The efforts of the priest and his parishioners eventually succeeded and the lost sheep became a street dog before evolving into a devil.  Devil, for Maria.  Not for the people in the parish. 

‘When you lose in the marketplace, you come home and boost your ego by beating your wife.’  Maria whimpered first, sulked later, shrieked in the end.  ‘You are a devil.  Father Joseph is right.  The devil has conquered your soul.’

The drunken Philip staggered near to his shrieking wife and raised his flaccid hand which fell on Maria’s cheek with a force that surprised even Philip.  The new strength sent some blood rushing to his brandy-sodden cheeks.  Maria saw an apparition of Father Joseph’s devil on her husband’s face and ran away in terror. 

Father Joseph’s devil had left Philip’s soul by the time he woke up the next morning.  ‘I’m sorry,’ he said to Maria planting a gentle kiss on the cheek that borne the brunt of his devil the previous evening. 

‘Why do you drink?’ asked Maria with fond longing.  ‘When you don’t drink you’re such a nice person.’

Philip didn’t know what to say.  How do you survive in the world of Potthukandathils without some defence mechanism such as brandy?  He didn’t articulate the thought, however.

In the evening he came home from Saint Joseph’s School and declared, “We’re going to Shimla next week.  Start packing.”

Maria shrieked, sulked and whimpered.

 They had very little possessions.  One thing that the ascetics and the alcoholics have in common is paucity of material possessions.  It was not hard for Maria to pack up the possessions.  What was hard was thinking about the future that lay ahead.  Shillong to Shimla.  What difference will that make?  One hill to another.  The conversion had to take place within, inside the soul, she remembered Father Joseph’s refrain.  Nothing had changed inside Philip.  The faithful flock continued to sing alleluias to the Lord.

An old friend of Philip had arranged a teaching post for Philip in Shimla.  Life carried on.  Not just as usual.  Much better.  Far better, realised Maria.  She did not feel the need to go to any church.  There was peace in their home.  Joy came trickling down in the simple forms of an ordinary life uninterfered by priests and their gods. 

Maria’s contentment received the most brutal shock when Philip came home one day from school reeking of whisky.  He used to drink a peg or two occasionally and Maria had no objection to it.  But this was different.

‘He’s here,’ mumbled Philip when she asked what made him drink like a fool.


‘Potthu-kandathil.’  Father Joseph had been transferred as the parish priest in the church near to the place where Philip and Maria lived.

‘So what?  Why should we bother?’

‘Why bother?’ Philip looked at her.  She saw the fury that was rising to his face from somewhere deep within.  The fury darkened his face.  It replaced the soddenness of the whisky.  ‘Why bother?’ he asked again.  ‘Do you think I have forgotten it all?  The damned priest and his faithful flock running after the lost sheep?’

Maria watched in terror Philip’s face contorting fiendishly with hatred. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ramayana: Shattered Dreams

Book Review

Ramayana: the Game of Life
Book 2: Shattered Dreams
Author:  Shubha Vilas
Publisher: Jaico, 2015
Pages: 387       Price: Rs350

Both the Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are brilliant tales about the complex game called life.  The good and the evil, the benevolent and malevolent, the divine and the demoniac, all appear in their due proportions at the appropriate times.  Though many thousand years have passed since their composition, the stories continue to fascinate readers all over the world because they are still relevant.  The virtues and vices portrayed in them belong to mankind irrespective of time.

However, any reader should learn to interpret them according to his/her given time.  This is precisely what Shubha Vilas has done with his series of books titled, Ramayana: the Game of Life.  While the first book, Rise of the Sun Prince, dwelt upon the life of Rama until his marriage, the present volume takes us through arguably the most poignant events in the life of the royal family. 

The author is not merely retelling the story of the epic in modern language; he is taking us on a journey of meditation through the minds of the different characters ranging from the wily Manthara who wakes up Keikeyi’s potential for evil to the egoless boatman who drinks the water with which he has washed the feet of Rama, from Sita who follows Rama to the life of asceticism to Urmila who lets go her husband with the same spirit of asceticism, from the elevated sage Vasist to the fallen sage Ugrasravas. 

There are very interesting discussions, footnotes, and other digressions that suffuse the novel.  For example, the chapter dealing with Rama’s exile from Ayodhya presents a fascinating discussion on ‘How does one handle reversals in life?’  The author’s suggestions, based on Rama’s example, are very pragmatic and in tune with psychological approaches.  He suggests flexibility, focus amid temptations, awareness about the power of responsibility, and steadfastness as the strategies.  There are many other similar discussions in the other chapters.

All the major characters are brought alive by the author in a simple yet fascinating way.  Literature and spirituality blend comfortably in the book.  I was particularly struck by Bharata’s explanation of the whole exile episode:

”Manthara is not to be blamed for what happened.  She is a maid after all, what do you expect from her?  Even Keikeyi is not to be blamed for this mishap.  She is a mother after all, what do you expect from her?  She has natural blind affection for her son.  Even the king is not to be blamed.  He had to keep his words after all, how can he be at fault?  Nor can Rama be blamed for the whole catastrophe.  He is an obedient son after all, with the burden of setting the right example for the world to follow.  If you want to know who is actually at fault for Raghunandana going to the forest, let me tell you, it is my sin that is at fault.  Because of my sin, so many people had to suffer.”

Bharata’s sin is in fact the sin of the whole mankind.  It is an endless continuum of the sins of commission and omission, the sins of callous indifference and unwarranted interference, the sins of greed and envy, of all the normal human vices and foibles.  Bharata was taking up the sins of the world on to himself.  Yet another Messiah whose message would meet the same fate as those of all others.

Anyone who wishes to take a novel journey through a very important section of the Ramayana may find this book alluring.  It is not a literary experience that the book provides, however; it is more spiritual and psychological.

Those who are put off easily by the miraculous and the supernatural may grimace while reading certain parts.  The author is a religious person by profession though he holds degrees in engineering and law.  If you can suppress your scepticism when confronted with the irrational, you will find the book rewarding in many ways.  

This review is a part of the biggest http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program for http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Kill?

Killing has always been the job of the religious.  They kill for their gods and the gods are always happy. 

Death is the pastime of the gods. 

And of those who are close to the gods. 

Remember the sacrifices stipulated by the Vedas?
Remember the crusades made by the Christian missionaries in the medieval period?

At least, remember the terrorist attacks of our own days?

The politics of the gods. 

If you're not sick of them, you have mastered the art of killing. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Real Enemies of India

People in general are inclined to pass the blame on to others whatever the fault.  For example, we Indians love to blame the British for their alleged ‘divide-and-rule’ policy.  Did the British really divide India into Hindus and Muslims or did the Indians do it themselves?  Was there any unified entity called India in the first place before the British unified it?

Having raised those questions, I’m going to commit a further sacrilege of quoting a British journalist-cum-historian.  In his magnum opus, India: a History, John Keay says that the “stock accusations of a wider Machiavellian intent to ‘divide and rule’ and to ‘stir up Hindu-Muslim animosity’” levelled against the British Raj made little sense when the freedom struggle was going on in India because there really was no unified India until the British unified it politically.  Communal divisions existed in India despite the political unification.  In fact, they existed even before the British ever set foot on the country’s soil.  Keay says, “As Maulana Muhammad Ali would later put it, ‘We (Indians) divide and you (the British) rule.’  Without recognising, exploring and accommodating such division, British dominion in India would have been impossible to establish, let alone sustain.  Provoking sectarian conflict, on the other hand, was rarely in the British interest.”

The first reaction I anticipate from hardcore ‘patriots’ of contemporary India is that I have used a British writer’s view.  Well, my answer is: forget the nationality of the writer and see whether what he says is right.  Put aside emotions and sentiments and make use of plain rationality and objective facts.  Did the British actually divide us or did we divide ourselves?  It was not only religion that we used for erecting huge walls of separation among ourselves but also the caste system and its subsidiary systems.  The British made effective use of those divisions.

Secondly, no government would be foolish to encourage fissiparous tendencies among its people since they would only create more problems than solutions for any ruler.  It is interesting that the present government in India, led by the BJP, thinks otherwise.  It is encouraging antagonistic confrontations between the various religious communities for gaining certain political mileage.  Anyone with any vision beyond the tip of his/her nose would understand the folly as well as the danger that underlies the approach.

Suchitra Vijayan’s article in today’s Hindu, Rewriting the nation state, summarises succinctly the strategies used by the BJP and its allies to foment divisiveness in the country.  Let me extract the list from the concluding paragraph of her article:

Courtesy Economic Times
1.     Violence manufactured through riots
2.     Destruction of religious sites such as churches
3.     Organising religious conversion camps
4.     Beef bans
5.     Rewriting textbooks
6.     Censoring works of history, literature and fiction that challenge the ‘Hindu’ version of history
7.     Appropriating political icons
8.     Raising monuments

It would be interesting if the ‘patriots’ would sit up and reflect whether the British ever made use of such strategies.  What I’m trying to suggest is that we, some citizens of the independent India in the 21st century, are doing much more harm to the integrity of the nation than the British ever did.  Is this the India we really want?  Who are our real enemies?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Being with the beloved

Nothing ennobles human beings more than the company of their beloved ones in an environment suffused with the splendour of nature.  My latest such experience occurred last summer when Maggie and I visited Shimla.  The verdurous hillsides that rise majestically all around cling to your soul with an unearthly tenacity.  They bewitch you so much that you feel oppressed and liberated simultaneously.  You become the questing knight of  Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci.  You are drowned in transcendental beauty.  You are intoxicated with it.

Having spent the day visiting various places of tourist interest, we were dropped back by our driver at the Old Bus Stand from where we wished to walk up the fairly steep ascent to the Mall Road.  The narrow lane is lined on both sides with goods of all sorts ranging from exotic trinkets to day-to-day grocery items.  The mundane and the sublime coexist in an edifying spirit of camaraderie in the markets of hill stations. 

A view from the Mall Road
Photo by Maggie

A colossal statue of Hanuman that overlooks the entire town welcomed Maggie and me as we stepped on to the Mall Road.  We sauntered along the road constructed by the British and now crowded with tourists from various parts of the country as well as outside.  Standing at a relatively deserted part of the road, we watched the saffron Hanuman towering above the trees and even the mountains.  The thick foliage that surrounded him crept into my imagination and began to metamorphose into a story.  Instead of Keats’s knight questing for his mysterious Dame, my fantasy drew up a female protagonist robed in the saffron colour of the Indian ascetic and was on a spiritual quest.  While Maggie sat on one of the pews in Christ Church seeking spiritual union with her God, I sat beside her conjuring up the dimensions of the ascetic who had invaded my imagination.  Maya was finding her dimensions in my imagination.

As the sun disappeared behind the foliage that marked the horizon, Maggie and I walked into an elegant restaurant for our dinner.  Shimla’s apple wine failed to surpass the intoxication of its mountains.

Even when Maggie and I, perched precariously on our ponies, were climbing up the rugged trail leading to Kufri’s adventure land the next morning the fictitious woman in the woods surrounding the Hanuman temple kept haunting my imagination.  Maggie screamed as her pony slipped on a pebble.  “Hold on tightly,”  instructed the guide who was walking between our ponies.  He kept instructing us when to bend forward or backward so that the pony is not overburdened by our ignorance of riding rules.  I watched Maggie on her pony making a fine balance between fear and ecstasy. 

Balance and harmony.  Merging of contradictions.  Evaporation of polarities.  Was Maggie merging into Maya or vice-versa?  How is a story born? 

Being with your beloved unfolds stories.  Naturally.  Like the blossoming of the tree when the season arrives.

PS. Inspired by the theme  ‘Together’  sponsored by  Housing  [https://housing.com/]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Holy Wars

When Babur was conquering more territory in India, one of his formidable opponents was the Rajput king Rana Sangha of Mewar.  The news of the defeat of one of his battalions by Rana Sangha was accompanied by a soothsayer’s prediction of disaster and the desertion of the Indian mercenaries.  Babur’s soldiers were thoroughly demoralised.  A new strategy was required.  Thus came in religion.  “This is not just a war for territory,” declared the divinely inspired Babur.  “This is a jihad against infidels.”  With no other weapon than a few words, Babur converted a greedy and violent war into a holy jihad.  “Cowardice became apostasy while death assumed the welcome guise of martyrdom,” writes John Keay in his book, India: A History.  Keay goes on to quote from Babur-nama (Babur’s personal memoir-cum-diary), “The plan was perfect, it worked admirably...”  His soldiers took an oath on the Quran to fight till they fell.  What’s more, Babur enacted certain religious rituals too: abjuring alcohol, he ostentatiously dashed decanters and goblets to pieces, and emptied the wine-skins.  Babur-the-Conqueror became Babur-the-Crusader. 

Making use of religion for political purposes is a very ancient trick.  It is unfortunate that the trickery continues to be in use even today when the world has marched ahead of religion using science, reason and technology.  What happened in Chennai two days back is yet another instance of the return of obsolete tricks.  Some political activists belonging to various parties attacked a TV channel and forced it to cancel a programme which debated whether the mangal sutra worn by married women in India is a boon or a bane.  Even after the channel decided to call off the telecast of the debate, the attacks continued even to the extent of hurling a bomb though no one was hurt.  It’s not only “some fringe elements” that are involved but also the state’s BJP which extended its support to the attack. 

A few weeks back, Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan was forced to take an oath that he would not write any more merely because one of his novels questioned the male chauvinism that underscores the Hindu patriarchal system (as it does all patriarchal systems). 

Stifling debates and literature is the beginning of the disastrous decline of any society.  But some political parties in India led by the ruling BJP do not see it that way.  They belong to the era of Babur and his successors who believed that an empire of conquest could be sustained only by more conquests. 

Why does the past keep pulling the Party backwards even though the people of the country voted for the progressive “development” it had promised in its election manifesto?  Does India really need Holy Wars?  What triggers such notions as manifested by the Party and its “fringe elements” ever since Mr Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country?  These are a few of the questions that can be contemplated on in the Party’s next Chintan Baitak.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Big Change

If your life ever becomes a mess and goes out of your control, one of the few options you are left with is to leave the environment. Leaving the familiar territory and taking a leap into the apparent darkness that lies ahead calls for something more than frustration.  It requires boldness.  Boldness to face new challenges when you are
already beaten down by old ones!

The year was 2001 and the place was Shillong.  I was 41 years old and working as a lecturer in a reputed college in the town.  There was a curious mixture of factors that
had thrown my personal life into utter chaos. Immaturity, inability to deal with the society, inadequate understanding of myself, some futile illusory quests... The list was pretty long, long enough to bog me down utterly.

When you are down and out, Newton’s law on momentum and acceleration attaches itself to you with unflinching fidelity and your downward cruise becomes irreversible.  The society is more than happy to add its bit by giving you an additional shove as you move down the slippery slope.  Every society loves its beaten denizens.  The beaten are a symbol of what the successful are happily not.  The joy of the successful multiplies in direct proportion to each one’s debilities or complexes on seeing the dereliction of the fallen people.

The slope of the derelict is usually rendered a one-way traffic by the gravitational pull of both the fall of the beaten and the fascination with which the fall is watched by the

I was fortunate enough to be visited by an epiphany.  “Miracles happen every day” was inscribed in very big letters on the wall outside the Loreto school.  As I rode by it one day a question arose in me: what miracle can I make happen to me?  The answer didn’t take long to come.  I wrote my resignation letter and met the Principal of the college.

Was it a bold decision?  Or was it made out of sheer frustration?  Was it both?
Perhaps, it was all these and more.  A month later my wife and I, both unemployed, found ourselves in Delhi.  I must admit that my brother-in-law had extended a warm invitation to us already along with an assurance: “Delhi can offer jobs to anyone who has the skills and the inclination to use them.”

One of the many lessons that Delhi has taught me is that it is cosmopolitan enough to welcome anyone, the darkness that hides in certain alleys and byways notwithstanding.  Delhi continued to teach me numerous valuable lessons of life none of which I would have learned in the previous place in all probability.  Delhi made a man of me by revealing the divine and the diabolic dimensions of humanity.  I watched the essence of humanity on the roads and kerbs of Delhi.  Live human bodies that huddled en masse under the flyovers or over the bridge across the Yamuna in the freezing winter nights were some of my teachers.  So were the elegantly dressed upwardly mobile bodies in the malls and multiplexes.  Delhi continues to teach me in more ways than I can enumerate.

Delhi was my miracle.  The big change.  The city that transformed me and still continues to tickle every neuron in my veins and cause occasional synaptic eruptions in my brain.  In my heart too.

PS. Inspired by the #StartANewLife theme of Housing [https://housing.com/].

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Justice Katju and Mahatma Gandhi

I say 90 per cent of Indian are idiots.  You people don’t have brains in your heads.... It is so easy to take you for a ride.  You mad people will start fighting amongst yourself (sic), not realizing that some agent provocateur is behind a mischievous gesture of disrespect to a place of worship. Today 80 per cent Hindus are communal and 80 per cent Muslims are communal.  This is the harsh truth, bitter truth that I am telling you.  In 150 years, you have gone backwards instead of moving forward because the English kept injecting poison.

Justice Katju
Justice Markandey Katju, retired judge of the Supreme Court of India, said those words in a seminar organised by the South Asia Media Commission on 8 Dec 2012 in Delhi. 

Now he tells us in his blog that Mahatma Gandhi was “an agent of the British.” He lists three reasons.
1.     By injecting religion into politics, Gandhi helped the British policy of ‘divide and rule.’
2.     Gandhi’s satyagraha diverted the revolutionary freedom movement into “a harmless nonsensical channel.”
3.     Gandhi’s economic ideas were “nonsense” and deception of people.

Gandhi and religion

Gandhi was a deeply religious person.  He was a devout Hindu and, as Justice Katju points out in his latest (as of now) blog, he sometimes waxed poetic like most deeply religious people: he went to the extent of calling the cow “a poem of pity”  and demanded the protection of the animal. 

In spite of such facts, Katju’s allegations against Gandhi reveal a partial or selective understanding of the Mahatma.  When Gandhi demanded the protection of the cow, he was using the cow as a convenient symbol, a symbol that would be easily understood and accepted by a large majority of Indians.  “The cow to me means the entire sub-human world,” said Gandhi (and Justice Katju has quoted that too).  “Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives.”  What Gandhi wanted Indians to learn was profound respect for all creatures. All that exists is sacred – that’s what Gandhi meant, in other words.  It is unfortunate that Justice Katju could not rise to that level of understanding and chose to interpret Gandhi literally.  Justice Katju misleads his readers with selective quotes and interpretations.

Gandhi did not consider even the scriptures as the ultimate truths.  How would he then expect us to take his words as the final truths?  Scriptures are like poetry (even as the cow was to Gandhi).  They are not to be interpreted literally.  Gandhi did not accept the Rama of the Ramayana and the Krishna of the Mahabharata as gods.  “My Rama,” said Gandhi, “the Rama of my prayers is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya.  He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without a second….” [Harijan: April 28, 1946].  “I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharata ever lived.  My Krishna has nothing to do with any historical person,” wrote Gandhi. [Young India: Jan 1, 1925]

In a 1942 article Gandhi wrote, “Rama is not known by only a thousand names.  His names are innumerable, and He is the same whether we call Him Allah, Khuda, Rahim, Razzak, the Bread-giver, or any name that comes from the heart of a true devotee.” [Harijan: Feb 15, 1942]

Gandhi defined God as Truth.  The pursuit of God was religion, for him.  The pursuit of the ultimate truth is a perilous adventure.  That’s why Gandhi called his autobiography his “experiments with truth.”  His entire life was an experiment.  He was a learner till the end of his life.  That spirit of enquiry is the real religion.  Cows and idols as well as other religions and their scriptures, anything at all, can be means of arriving at one’s religious truths. 

The failure to understand this is what misleads people like Justice Katju as well as quite many other critics of Gandhi.  A similar failure is what produces religious fanatics and extremists and contemporary India’s cultural-nationalists.  They fail to see the wood for the trees. They are incapable of perceiving the vision of the mystic or the saint or the prophet or whatever.  And Gandhi belonged to the category of the saint and the mystic – despite the shrewdly calculative and political acumen he possessed.

Revolution and Non-Violence

A simple logical question that demolishes Justice Katju’s entire argument in this regard is: why should revolutions be necessarily violent?  If we can achieve the goal without using violence, isn’t that far better and far desirable?  Gandhi was shrewd enough to understand the logic of the British and hence use the same logic against them.  It was a battle of wits instead of battle with deadly weapons. 
A man with a different vision

The British perceived themselves as the most civilised race on the earth.  They viewed it as their “burden” to civilise the world: “the white man’s burden.”  What Gandhi showed to the British was that they were not so civilised, after all.  They were using violence like the savages while the Indians were non-violent.  It is that logic which the British had no answer for.  They could have answered weapons with weapons, violence with more violence.  But how could they afford to counter civilisation with savagery?  Gandhi used their weapon against themselves.  Shrewdly.  Wisely, may I say, Justice Katju?

Gandhian economics

Gandhi’s economics was based on the simple understanding that the earth has enough to meet the need of everyone but not the greed of anyone.  True, many of Gandhi’s views in this regard were not practical in a world with rising populations and complexities of needs.  Hence I’m willing to grant certain space to Justice Katju in this regard.  But, once again, what’s required is a proper understanding of Gandhi’s vision rather than condemnation of his views.  Gandhi envisaged a simple world, a utopia of sorts.  His was a romantic dream not much different from the Biblical Eden.  It was an impractical dream.  But it was neither “nonsense” nor “deceiving the people” if we are able to rise to the level of Gandhi’s thinking and world-vision.

The world chose to follow the diktats of human greed rather than the poetry of simple needs.  What have we made of the world with that choice?  A planet that is being plundered and raped over and again, mercilessly...


 Justice Katju argues that Akbar is more fit to be the father of the nation than Gandhi because of the former’s religious tolerance.  I don’t want to discuss Akbar here lest this post becomes a book rather than a blog.  But the Justice should remember that distance always tends to lend enchantment to the view.  The farther back we go in history, the easier it is to glorify people since their feet of clay would have been replaced with legends more precious than the costliest metals.  Gandhi’s feet were indeed made of clay.  He would not have wished legends to replace them.  That was one of the aspects that made Gandhi great.  There were many other aspects too.  He deserves deeper study than the eminent Justice has bothered to do hitherto.    

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Story of Tublu

Book Review

Title: Story of Tublu
Author: Jahid Akhtar
Publisher: Lifi Publications, New Delhi, 2015
Pages: xii + 204           Price: Rs200

Every individual carries at least one story within him/her: his/her own story.  Life is a series of inevitable ups and downs which can be formulated into a beautiful tale with a little imagination and some effort. Jahid Akhtar succeeds in weaving one such tale in his debut novel, Story of Tublu.

It is not an autobiographical novel, of course.  It reads like a story that could have happened really.  Every line reads as if it is taken from actual life.  Every character is like someone we may actually meet in real life.  The author does not take recourse to any literary embellishments or sophisticated techniques to narrate his story.  It’s a straightforward narrative that comes in the simplest language possible and tells the story of some children who eventually grow up into young adults going through the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Tublu (Tanmay) and his father are rendered homeless by the inundation of the Brahmaputra and they travel a long distance to the city in order to seek the assistance of Mr Sharma who is a contractor-turned-educator.  With the benign assistance of Mr Sharma, Tublu is able to get good education and move on to a successful career.  Maina, Mr Sharma’s charming daughter, occupies a prominent place in Tublu’s affections.  She falls in love with someone else, however, whom she is not able to marry due not only to the difference in their religion but also to her father’s tragic illness.  The man chosen for her by her parents ends up as a failure in more ways than one.

While the plot revolves round mostly Tublu and Maina, there are other interesting characters too: Maina’s brother who studies in America and marries an American as well as Tublu’s various friends.  The novel looks at the nature of human relationships which can transcend certain boundaries made by man such as religion and nationality or which may in some cases remain at the level of sheer superficiality.  The plot moves from Assam to Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, as the characters travel for studies or jobs.  It crosses the national borders too occasionally.

It’s a fast-moving plot.  About two and a half decades pass in 204 pages.  While the pace helps to keep the reader glued to the pages, it runs the risk of rendering the narrative slightly superficial.  Perhaps, a slower pace would have helped the author to take deeper looks into the complexity of each major character’s psyche.  The novelist’s intention, however, seems to tell a good story in the simplest manner possible and he has succeeded in that.  

The foreword does an injustice to the reader: it lets out the climax of the novel thus potentially damaging the reader’s eagerness which would have been better sustained by suspense.  The reader may skip the foreword and return to it after reading the novel.  Young readers are particularly likely to find the novel thrilling. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Indian Women and their Leaders

Mythologies of various civilisations present tales of kingdoms that became sterile because of the wickedness of their kings.  Kings or Political Leaders play a vital role in moulding the moral values and principles of their citizens.  No nation can be greater than its leader. Look at what some of our leaders have said about women.  You will then understand why women in India can never feel safe, why crimes against them are sure to rise. 

Babulal Gaur is an 85 year-old BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh. Age has not made him wise in any way.  When can rape ever be right?  The people who voted for him deserve an answer.  Do ask. On this Women's Day.

The Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, BJP's Ramsewak Paikra, thinks that rapes are accidental rather than intentional.  How many mistakes is he willing to tolerate or condone?  Do ask. On this Women's Day.

Here is a solution from Haryana, a state where women are treated like goods and chattels.  When it suits these people they don't hesitate to seek examples even from the Mughals.  The question, however, is who are the contemporary Mughals?  Do ask. On this Women's Day. 

That's a classical argument once again from the Party that upholds India's culture and civilisation.  What is morality, Mr BJP?  Is it wearing the burka as O P Chautala might suggest drawing expedient inspiration from the Mughal era?  Raping women who wear the dress of their choice and convenience is not immoral for this leader.  How many more Women's Days are required to kick such leaders out of the power given to them by the people?

It's not only politicians but also our religious gurus, the custodians of our spirituality (let alone morality), who put the blame for rapes on the victims.  Is he any better than Mukesh Rapist who is also in the prison?  Do we need such gurus?  Do ask.  On this Women's Day.

The ultimate paradox of BJP.  The RSS chief is asking us to return to the villages when his political party in the persona of Mr Narendra Modi is asking us to give away our rural lands free to his cronies so that cities and industries can be developed.  Will these leaders come to an agreement on this, please?  Do answer.  On this Women's Day. 

The founder of ISKCON, an organisation that has more wealth in non-Hindu countries than in India, viewed rape as the gratification of a sense of itching that women too feel just like men. "After all, sex - rape or no rape - they will feel some pleasure," said the Godman.  Do you say Amen to that?  If not, question.  On this Women's Day.  And on any day. 

Can we stop glorifying people of this sort and follow our own rational faculties?  Can we abandon these leaders and their gods and godmen?  Our future will depend on our answers to these questions.  At least the safety of our women will.  

Acknowledgement: All images above are taken from http://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/assholes-guide-talk-rape/?ref=social&type=fb&b=0

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...