Monday, November 30, 2015

Secularism is not a bad word

‘Secular’ and ‘communal’ are bad words in India unlike in any other part of the world.  Most countries in the world are secular in the sense they don’t have state religions; they keep politics and religion apart from each other.  ‘Communal’ means belonging or related to a community and has no negative connotations except in India. 


We Indians are queer indeed.  We elected a party to power in the Centre because it promised to deliver us development.  But from the time the party started governing us, we started entertaining ourselves by abusing some people as ‘secular’ or ‘pseudo-secular.’  The latter term seems to have gone out of fashion. The country is polarised today into the ‘secular’ and the ‘communal.’  If you believe in some religion or god, you are communal.  If you demand peace and prosperity, you are filthy secular. 

Rajnath Singh, our Home Minister, wants to cleanse the Indian vocabulary of secularism.  He tried to sound profoundly philosophical by adding two new words to the country’s neologism [which relies more on slogans like swachch Bharat and Achche din than on new coinages] by introducing Dharam Nirpeksh and Panth Nirpeksh.  The phrases may make little sense to more than half of the Indians. 

Making sense hardly matters.  When Manuel I, King of Portugal, issued a decree in 1496 that all the Jews in the country should either convert to Christianity or leave the country [which is plagiarised as one of the goals of Hindutva as envisaged by Golwalkar in We or Our Nation Defined], the real intention was to subjugate the perceived enemies.  Those Jews who got ready to leave the country were stopped at the port by soldiers and priests and were converted by force.  The new converts came to be called New Christians who were never given equal status.    

A decade after the conversions, there was a terrible drought and onset of plague in the country.  The entire blame for the evils was placed on the New Christians.  They were converted by force.  And now they were accused of being the cause of drought and plague.  Those wielding power always find some enemies.  Or else create them.  Enemies are essential for upholding political power.

In 1506, during a prayer service in a church in Portugal somebody claimed to have seen the illuminated face of Jesus on the altar.  One of the faithful in the church, who was perhaps more secular than religious, said that the illumination must have been a reflection of the candle on the crucifix.  That man was immediately dragged out of the church by the hair and beaten to death mercilessly.  That man was a New Christian. 

A few years later Inquisition became the most favourite entertainment in Portugal.  About 40,000 people were killed in the most savage forms by the Grand Inquisitor and his ministers who were ushering development in the country – spiritual development, of course.  The victims were mostly the New Christians.

Five centuries have passed.  The darkness has passed from one continent to another.  The robes of the inquisitors have changed colour.  The war cries are very similar sometimes.  But there is a veneer of sophistication being imposed from above in the form of neologisms. 

Portugal learnt secularism eventually.  It has no official religion today though 81% of the people are Christians [the percentage is the same for the majority community in India].  Article 13 of the Portuguese Constitution states that "No one may be privileged, favoured, prejudiced, deprived of any right or exempted from any duty for reasons of ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation."

India has a Constitution which extends similar rights and privileges to its citizens.  Why do our leaders want to change that Constitution?  Why do they want us to go backward rather than forward?

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Delhi is a city of flyovers and high-fliers.  People from all over the country are driven to the welter of opportunities that the National Capital Region offers with the magnanimity that the emperors of the walled city displayed to their favourite courtiers and courtesans.  Anyone who has the inclination and the drive will find his or her place in Delhi sooner than later – under the flyover if not above it. 

Sprawling landscape around Qutub Minar
The loves we share with a city are often not very upfront.  What drives Delhi are not merely the well-maintained roads and flyovers and the exquisite metro service but also the secret gratifications it offers in the sprawling malls with their multiplexes and the greenery that throbs in the woodlands that dot the city’s map with an unusual excess of nature’s bounty.  You can drive a dilapidated Bajaj scooter or a luxurious BMW and be at home in the anonymity of Delhi’s crowded vastness.  You can wear a cheap outfit bought from the street vendor in Chandni Chowk or a royal dress from DLF Emporio in Vasant Kunj and be a proud Delhiite.

Delhi has a unique design.  There is the old city of Shahjahan with its limestone and marbles, walls and tombs, that carry breathtaking tales with the patience that only stones possess.  Then there is the New Delhi that stretches seemingly endlessly into the neighbouring states. 
An ashram in Bhatti Mines

The metro trains that run in the sky with skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes silhouetted all  around lend a distinctive flavour to Delhi.  The cycle rickshaws still linger on in Shahjahan’s city where life teems with primitive passion in contrast with the luxury of the sophistication that one encounters in South Delhi.

There is a whole world beneath the surface of Delhi.  It’s not only the underground markets like Palika Bazaar or the underground metro rails that draw you to the entrails of the city.  There is a whole network of subways some of which are more crowded than the overground thoroughfares.  Some of the miracles of human imagination and invention can be found in those underground worlds.  The Rajiv Chowk metro station is one such miracle with a whole underground universe that teems with thousands of people at any given time when the metro trains are in service. 

The best thing may be that Delhi connects.  There are people who will help you to make the connections.  Whatever kind of connections you may wish for.  There are the services.  There are the facilities.  There are the transport systems: from the humble cycle rickshaws in the walled city’s congested lanes with their royal arches of yore to the innumerable flights that take off from the various terminals of Indira Gandhi airport.  And there is an abundance of godmen and their ashrams.  Hundreds of vehicles of all types, mostly of the richer varieties, ply towards these homes of holiness particularly in South Delhi on days when the godmen deign to shower their blessings on the yearning teeming devotees.  What is a city without some spiritual connects?  Delhi has some inimitable godmen especially in Bhatti Mines.  The very air of Bhatti Mines is redolent of the heavens.  

PS. This post is written for the #madeofgreat theme of Tata Motors:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Buddha and Zorba

My favourite novelists are those whose characters went on some wild goose chases, looking for oases in the mirage of life.  Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Dostoevsky have remained on the top of my list for long.  Jose Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ and Javier Marias’s Infatuations captured my fancy later.  But one writer who has remained above them all for long is Nikos Kazantzakis.  His novels explore the conflict between the body and the soul, between “god and man” as he put it.  The Last Temptation of Christ, Christ Recrucified, and Saint Francis explore that conflict brilliantly.  However, the author’s earlier novel, Zorba the Greek, is what strikes me as the best. 

Zorba presents the classical Greek dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.  Apollo is the god of reason and control, while Dionysius revels in the wild passions.  In the novel, Zorba is a worker who is taken on as an assistant by the narrator who is a young intellectual writing a book on Buddha and is also on a spiritual quest.  Zorba becomes his spiritual guru eventually.  Zorba tells him to cast aside the Buddha and learn to live the moment with full passion.  Life is a mask for death.  You can live as if you are never going to die, or you can live as if you are going to die today.  There is little difference between the two, says Zorba, provided you realise the immateriality of a life that has to end one day in nothingness. 

Happiness can be as simple and frugal as a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, or the sound of the sea, says Zorba.  The sensuousness of life is to be relished.  That is his gospel.  But he is not devoid of the spirit.  His santuri (a musical instrument) takes Zorba to a different plane from the merely sensuous.  But not to the heavens.  God and devil have no meaning for Zorba.  Life is here and now.  Whatever you are doing, do it with full passion.  Even if it is making love to an old woman.

Zorba is the opposite of the Buddha.  And yet there is something of the Buddha in Zorba too.  “This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition,” the narrator learns.  “To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them.  To eat and drink well, yet to escape every lure and to possess the stars above you, with the land to your left, and the sea to your right, and suddenly to understand that life, having brought its final accomplishment to conclusion in your heart, has turned into a fairytale.”

Jesus in The Last Temptation nailed his body to the cross and thus overcame the temptations of the flesh.  Saint Francis, the eponymous hero, transformed not only temptations but also hunger and cold, scorn and injustice, the pain of existence, into a tangible dream through love.  That dream was truer than truth.  Saint Francis was also converting the body into spirit in his own way.

Zorba lives the life of the body.  Yet there is something of the Christ and the Saint and the Buddha in him.  That makes a him a saint with a difference.  It is that saint that appeals to me much more than the others.  Like Zorba, I don’t go on knocking on a deaf man’s door forever.  But like the narrator of Zorba, I experience the urge to knock on that door sometimes.  It is that urge which prompted Kazantzakis to explore the psyche of Jesus and Francis.  It is that urge which makes me look at these characters again and again. 

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 93 - #favourite AuthorBook

My previous post on Kazantzakis: Body and Soul

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Women Happy to Bleed

Once I asked a class of sixteen-year olds, both boys and girls, mostly Christians, why the Biblical Satan chose to tempt Eve rather than Adam.  The answers varied from women’s “gullibility” to their “susceptibility to flattery.”  I was mildly disappointed for not getting the response which I looked forward to: “The Bible was written by a man.”

Image courtesy: Countercurrents
A few days back, the Travancore Devaswom Board obtained a new president, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, who seems to be the 21st century avatar of the writer of Genesis.  He thinks, like the author of the Adam-Eve myth, that women are an impure species.  When asked whether women would be allowed entry into the most celebrated temple in Kerala, the Sabarimala Temple, he said that he would wait for the invention of a machine that could scan the female body to determine “if it is the 'right time' (not menstruating) for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside."

The religious person can accept the machine which is a product of scientific temper.  But he won’t internalise the scientific temper.  His attitude towards women belongs to the period of Manusmriti or the Inquisition.  This is the most serious problem with religion: it never grows up. 

There is a movement  against the Travancore Devaswom Board Pope’s remark led by the hashtag #HappyToBleed.   I support the movement because it is not merely about gender equality.  It is also about the falsification of the reality that religion indulges in to suit its purposes. 

When the author of Genesis made Eve eat the Satanic apple he was imposing a momentous falsehood on humanity: that the woman is responsible for the sinfulness of the human race.  The falsehood gained such acceptability among the believers that the Jewish men thanked their God every morning for not making them women.  "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman."  That is part of the morning blessings uttered by every Jewish male, while his female counterpart will say, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will.”  Could a greater ignominy be cast upon the female race?

The Quran equates woman to a field which a man can plough according to his requirement.  “Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields when you please” [2:223].  The Quran unequivocally gives man superiority and authority over woman.  The falsehood has continued to be accepted as truth until this day.

“Women, true to their character, are capable of leading men – a fool and a learned man alike – astray in this world. Both become slaves of desire,” is one of the many such holy truths in Manusmriti.

This is not merely a matter of gender equality.  The aggressive domination of patriarchy is as undesirable as the equally aggressive rebelliousness of feminism.  Both are based on falsehoods.  Both are falsification of the reality.  What is required is a proper understanding and acknowledgement of each individual’s rights irrespective of the gender.  What is required is the cultivation of a sensibility that respects a person for what she or he is. 

This is not about women’s menstruation.  It is about who creates what kind of truths.  If India has become a country where an Aamir Khan cannot even express his family’s apprehensions about their security, it is because falsification of reality has become the norm today.  The current political dispensation at the Centre is spawning Prayar Gopalakrishnans who seek the help of science and technology in order to inflict falsehoods on the country’s people.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why do I Write?

Every writer is happy when his writing sells.  When I decided to collect some of my short stories into a book, I was not very hopeful about the commercial success of the book; I was only venturing on an experiment.  The real motive was not commercial success but the dedication of the book to some people who nagged me into writing the stories.  The publication of the book with its dedication that appears on the very title page was a ritual of exorcism for me.  I was casting out the demons that were put in me by certain people. 

One of my acquaintances who read the book or a part of it asked me today, “What made you write these stories?”  Most of the stories in the volume are subversive to some extent, he said that in different words.  My first reviewer, Sreesha Divakaran, said the same thing in her own words: ‘...all the stories in the book, in subtle ways, question morality as we know it, what we have been taught as “right” or “moral.”   Being a subversive is not my conscious choice.  Subversion is my subconscious rebellion against what I cannot protest more effectively and consciously.  Fiction-writing is not entirely a conscious activity.    

Towards the end of his relatively brief life, George Orwell listed four reasons why any writer writes though “in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.”  The reasons are, in Orwell’s own words:

1.     Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen - in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all - and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

2.     Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

3.     Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4.     Political purpose - using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

I don’t think I can add anything more to what Orwell said as far as my motives as a writer are concerned, leaving aside the exorcist one mentioned already.  Only a clarification is required: the ranking of my writing may not rise much “above the level of a railway guide.”  Nevertheless, the impulses that drive me as a writer are no different from those which drove Orwell and others, in short.  There is a lion’s share of egoism, an aesthetic motive which I would like to believe is not too feeble, a very strong historical impulse and a matching political purpose. 

My attempt here is not to compare me with any great writer like Orwell.  Rather, it is to state that my motives and impulses are as good or bad as those of other writers. 

My book, The Nomad Learns Morality, is doing good business, my publisher tells me.  They have made it available at the following sites.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Terrorist Learns to Read


Professor woke up hearing the sound of something falling in the backyard of his two-storey house.  He switched on the lights.  It was three o’clock, still a couple of hours to his wake-up alarm.   A groan rose from the yard.  He went downstairs and opened the backdoor.

“Who are you?  What are you doing here?” He asked the man who was struggling to get up.

Professor helped the man to get up and led him into his drawing room.  He gave him water to drink and offered to prepare tea.

“You have a fracture in the foot, I think,” said Professor having examined the man’s leg.  He picked up his phone and called for an ambulance.   “Let me change my dress.  Relax here until the ambulance arrives.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” The man asked Professor while they were in the ambulance.  He was lying down on the stretcher.  Professor was not a fool; he must have understood what had happened.  The intruder had fallen down while trying to get into his house through the upper storey by climbing up a tree.

“Did I have an option?” wondered Professor.  “You come to my house and break your leg.  What else could I do?”

It was only after the man was admitted in the hospital that he revealed his identity and the purpose of his nocturnal visit to Professor.  He was a terrorist assigned with the duty of cutting off Professor’s palms. 

“You shouldn’t write anymore, that’s what we wanted,” he explained.   Professor’s writings hurt their religious sentiments, he said.  So they decided to stop his writings.  And thus give a warning to other such potential writers.  No one should dare to question religion.  Holy cows should be above the questioning of silly rationalists like Professor.

“But did you read my writings?” Professor asked.  “Any one of you whose sentiments are so brittle, did any one of you read my writings?”

Professor knew the answer even before Terrorist answered him. 

“Has any one of you ever read the scriptures of your religion?”

Professor knew the answer even before Terrorist answered the question.

“What is religion?”  Terrorist stared at Professor.  He did not know the answer.

Wasn’t it the magic wand with which we subjugated people?  The magic wand which elevated some to the higher classes and relegated others to the lower?  It created myths and enshrined them as eternal truths.  It created holy cows.  It burned alive the seekers of real truths after labelling them as heretics and witches, infidels and blasphemers.  Gods have always been blood-thirsty.  Religion is a history of divine thirst that stretches from Prometheus to Kalburgi, from Achtaeon to Akhlaq. 

“Your leg will take at least six weeks to heal,” Professor told the man.  “You will get ample time to read the Gita, the advice of the god of your holy cow.  Read the whole Mahabharata and see if that god is worth amputating people’s arms for.  You will get time to read more and I can give you the materials if you wish.”

Was this Professor’s revenge?  Terrorist asked himself.  Is he mocking me?   When my father was shot dead in a railway station by a man who came from across the country’s border carrying a machine gun, where was this Professor with his counsel? 

No, Professor, the enemies of our gods deserve death.  Nothing less.  What are we without our gods?  I don’t need your books.  I need my gods.

When Terrorist was discharged from hospital, Professor took him home.

“Why don’t you leave me alone?  I’ll go back to my home.”  Terrorist almost pleaded.

“But your mission is not accomplished.”  Professor went in and came back with the knife that had fallen in his backyard along with Terrorist.  He kept the knife above a book shelf and said, “The day you are able to use it again, you can accomplish your mission and leave happily. In the meanwhile, these are the books that you may read.”

When Professor went to college, Terrorist pulled out one of the books after looking at many titles.  Jokes.  That was the book he pulled out.  He opened a page randomly.

“Dam fish, dam fish,” a boy was shouting trying to sell the fish in his basket.

“Why do you call them damn fish?” asked a pastor who passed by.

“I caught them from the dam,” said the boy innocently.

Pastor bought some fish.  He told his wife that they were special fish as they were dam fish.

“Damn fish are special?” wondered the woman. 

“This is the problem with you people whose minds are dirty,” sermonised Pastor.  “I say dam and you hear damn.”  He explained that they were dam fish.

Later, at dinner, he said to his wife, “Pass me the dam fish.”

“Ha!  That’s the spirit, Dad,” said his young son jubilantly.  Then turning to his mom he said, “Mom, pass me the fucking potatoes.”

Terrorist laughed.  Then he realised that it was the first time he laughed in many years.  He read more jokes and laughed more. 

When he laughed flowers bloomed in the garden outside.  “Why didn’t I ever notice this beauty earlier?”  He wondered. 

Slowly he learnt that there was so much beauty in the world to be relished. 

Do you see the bird sitting there?  And the tree? And me?”  Drona asked Arjuna.

Terrorist was re-writing the Gita.

“I see the bird,” replied Arjuna.  “I see it clearly.”

“Aim at the eye,” said the Guru.

Arjuna lowered his bow and arrow.  “I can’t,” he said.  “I can’t shoot.”

“Why?”  The Guru became petulant.

“I see, Guru.  I see clearly.”

“Don’t you want your knife?”  Professor asked when Terrorist’s foot was liberated from its plaster cage and he was ready to walk away.

“Haven’t you made me incapable of wielding it?”  Terrorist asked.  “Haven’t you taught me that the word is more powerful than the knife?”

“Compassion is the most powerful weapon, my friend,” said Professor.  “What the religions have always preached but never learnt.  Compassion.  Try wielding that weapon.  No enemy can fight that for long.”

Compassion.  Was it compassion that his Arjuna felt for the bird when he refused to shoot it?  He had still to learn that.  He would learn.  Soon, he hoped.  He could feel his lips longing to kiss someone and whisper, “I love you. I love you.”

Sreesha Divakaran's review of my book, The Nomad Learns Morality: HERE

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Terrorist meets his God


Salim slapped himself and said, “Allah, forgive me.”

The very sight of Sonal Sharma sent a rush of blood to what his friends called “centre point.”  Sonal was beautiful.  At the age of 17, she had conquered the peak of feminine charm in every possible way.  Her physical figure was statuesque.  She was flighty and coquettish while dealing with the boys in the class but sincerely committed to her studies and topped the class usually.  A future doc.  Salim imagined her in the doctor’s white coat with the stethoscope dangling on the perfect parabola of her bosom.  They were classmates, Salim and Sonal.

In many ways she was like his mother, reflected Salim.  Maria, his mother, was a Catholic of Keralite origin though born and brought up in Delhi.  She and Sulaiman met each other on a flight from Delhi to Washington DC.  She was a journalist with a prominent national newspaper and was deputed to report the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  He was a professor at a Delhi University college and was going to attend a training programme In Washington sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Science Research.  Allah, the Merciful, brought them together on their return flight too. 

Soon Allah brought them together in marriage.  And by the first anniversary of their flight from Washington DC, Maria gave birth to Salim.

When a genocide was unleashed on the Muslims in Gujarat Salim was in his KG class.  He returned home in the evening as usual but without knowing that he would not see his father anymore. 

Sulaiman had disappeared.  Maria’s enquiries with whatever help that the Delhi police were willing to proffer in tracing a Muslim yielded nothing. 

Sulaiman had grown more and more religious after his marriage while Maria grew proportionately irreligious.   

“You are a journalist at heart,” her husband accused her one day.  “Superficial.  Never delving beneath the surface.  How many killed?  What did the politicians say?  You never go beyond that.”

“What’s beyond that is also beyond journalism,” she defended herself and her profession.  “We can’t write the exhortations uttered by the Prophet and his hadiths.  That’s not our job...”

Sulaiman grew more and more restless until the restlessness was transmuted into a phantom by the Gujarat riots.  The phantom swallowed Sulaiman.  No one saw him ever again.

The vacuum that Sulaiman became entered Salim’s soul.  The Sanskrit shlokas recited in his school’s morning assemblies, the Hindu prayers and other such religious gestures, sought to fill that vacuum.  God was a joke for his mother.  The ultimate joker sitting up there and laughing at us, she would say.  But God was a big vacuum in Salim’s heart.  A vacuum as big as his father. 

When he reached high school, Salim started attending certain religious classes in the neighbourhood madrassa in the evenings.  Allah began to take some shape in the vacuum in his soul. 

Allah had his father’s shape.  Salim loved his God. 

Even Sonal Sharma could not shake his love for his God.  The love for his God demanded his own martyrdom.  Jihad.  They taught him that at the madrassa.  It was his duty to die for Allah.  He would get three-score-and-a-dozen Sonals in Jannah.  And the killers of his father and father’s people would be destroyed in the process. 

Salim sat in the car in the driver’s seat.  Suicide attack, his mother would report in a few hours from now.  The crowded Sarojini Nagar market was attacked by a suicide bomber who drove into the market in a car carrying a large number of massive explosives...

Sonal, move away!  Salim was not sure whether it was Sonal whom he saw fleetingly in the crowd.  Sonal was there among the thousands in the market, he said to himself.  So many Sonals.  Aren’t they all Sonals?

No, I can’t kill Sonal.  Forgive me, Allah!

He drove his car back. 

A couple of hours later, Maria received the bullet-ridden body of her son dumped on the side of a deserted road in Ber Sarai. 

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ramdev Remedy for Terrorism

Baba Ramdev is the 21st century sage.  In the ancient system, the sage went away from the world of men to places like the Himalayas and afflicted themselves with the extremes of what their normal counterparts in the normal world endured.  Ramdev has redefined religion for the 21st century.  Religion need not be a pain in the posterior; it can be a luxury – that’s the new Veda.

The other day the Baba came up with Patanjali atta noodles to counter Nestle’s Maggi.  The yogi has now come up with yogawear which is expected to give Nike and Adidas a run for their money.   “The spiritual guru will soon launch health drinks such as Powervita to take on Horlicks and Bournvita, babycare and beauty products...,” reports the Times of India.  Patanjali has become a brand name, thanks to the inspiring entrepreneurial skills of the yogi.  It may even buy up the entire country in a few years’ time and rename it Ramdevstan.  We will have everything from cooking salt to smartphone supplied by Baba Ramdev Inc.  Our dress, our language, our religion, everything will be available at Patanjali outlets. 

This is true aggiornamento: making religion up to date. 

When the Islamic aggiornamentalists have gone totally mental trying to update their religion and are shedding their frustrations viciously on what the average man would consider as symbols of culture and civilisation, Baba Ramdev teaches us the effective way of bringing religion to people.  When you are in the land of snake-charmers, be a melody in the pungi.  When everything from drinking water to medical services has been converted into a consumer product, religion and gods cannot escape the fate.  Baba Ramdev is the first person to realise this truth.  That is his genius.  His religion is a Rs 5000-crore enterprise now and is growing more rapidly than firms with CEOs whose expertise was nurtured at Harvard or LSE.  Soon gods and their blessings will be available to us in tetrapacks at Patanjali retail outlets.

Ramdev can and should be the inspiration to all religious terrorists.  They should learn how to adapt innovative and effective methods to achieve goals.  

Ramdev has given us all sorts of remedies.  He gave us Putrajeevak Beej for begetting sons and avoiding daughters.  He has antidote for AIDS and cancer.  Perhaps, he will soon grant us capsules against terrorism.  In the meanwhile, let us make a beeline for Yogawear, Patanjali instant noodles, and Powervita.  Jai Sri Ramdev!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Merciless Beauty


One of the poems that has never ceased to fascinate me is Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci.  Recently the poem featured in my blog post, Secrets of the Knight.  The haggard Knight also features momentarily in the novel I’m writing.  At the age of 16, the protagonist of the novel writes an English assignment titled The Quest of Keats’ Knight, which his English teacher, Father Joseph Kunnel, finds scandalous.  While the priest was doing everything within his capacity to bring up the boy as a God-fearing Catholic, the boy seemed bent upon following in the disastrous footsteps of the romantic poet’s Knight.  Let me quote the relevant lines from the novel.

The real mercilessness of la Belle Dame lies in her “titillating tantalisation,” argued the essayist.
“Titillating tantalisation!”  Father Joseph was stuck on that phrase for quite a long while.  Interesting, he thought. 
All human quest for the meaning of life is sure to end in futility, Ishan’s essay went on.  The Knight is a prototype of all those who set out on the quest.  

Father Joseph would have been much less scandalised had he heard the interpretation given by his young protégé to his companions.  It was full of sexual innuendoes.  The “pacing steed” on which the Knight “set” the Dame, her “fragrant zone” and her “sweet moan” acquired all the luridness of a fertile adolescent imagination.  But that luridness would have struck the priest as more natural and hence tolerable than the potential blasphemy that lay between the lines in the boy’s essay.  The priest predicts junkiehood for the boy.

But that boy will grow up to understand the association between truth and beauty as envisaged by Keats.  He will grow beyond the puerility of both adolescence and religion.

In another poem, Keats makes an equation between truth and beauty.  “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty,” says he in his Ode to the Grecian Urn

The beauty of life lies in the discovery of the meaning of one’s existence.  The quest for that meaning is as painful and laborious as the Knight’s quest.  Almost endless too, for the romantic souls. 

The meaning of one’s life is a personal discovery, a personal truth.  If one discovers it after the inevitable struggles it will be beautiful.  That is the beauty Keats speaks about.  That is the beauty contained in works of literature and other arts.  That beauty is the artist’s truth. 

I wrote this piece for the latest Indispire theme which also requires me (as I understand) to post the poem.  So here it goes:

La Belle Dame sans Merci

A Ballad


O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!           5
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.


I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,            10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.


I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,         15
And her eyes were wild.


I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.                  20


I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.


She found me roots of relish sweet,           25
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”


She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,                30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.


And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d                 35
On the cold hill’s side.


I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”            40


I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.


And this is why I sojourn here,                   45
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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...