Saturday, February 28, 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 flames in the name of agni pariksha just to gain the applause from the gallery.  You never protested though you knew deep in your heart that your ladders were being pulled away unjustly.  Unnecessarily, in fact.  

What would I have achieved by protesting?  Ram countered.  Kingship?  Do you think I was more interested in kingship than in the happiness of Kaikeyi ma? 

But your passive acceptance of Kaikeyi’s demand killed our father.  When you proffered joy to Kaikeyi you brought deep sorrow to many others in the family.

Both snakes and ladders are essential, brother, to complete the game.

Granted that.  Lakshman was thinking.  But why do the deserving people encounter more snakes than ladders?  He was watching helplessly and remorsefully Sita Devi being swallowed by the earth. 



Friday, February 27, 2015

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 times more nourishing than a whole loaf of bread,” he said benignly looking at my sagging shirt.

Eventually I shifted to a slightly better apartment and a colleague of mine started sharing it.  It was he who taught me the art and craft of cooking.  One of the many things I learnt to cook was the roti.  The dough was initially recalcitrant and took the shape of all the continents on the world map when I tried to flatten it into perfect circles.  

One of those days I happened to visit another friend who was in the process of cooking rotis as I entered his small living-cum-bed room adjacent to a significantly larger kitchen.  Most houses in Shillong owned by the Khasis were similar in those days: large living rooms and kitchens and small bedrooms.  They spend all their life in either the kitchen or the living room.  I watched with awe and wonder my friend flattening the dough into perfect circles.  I also noticed how his bum kept rolling as the roti made a double motion beneath the rolling pin: rotating and flattening.  I assumed that the bum had some mysterious connection with the art of roti making.

Back home, I tried to involve my little bum actively as I flattened the dough that evening.  My apartment-mate stared at me for a while and asked, “What are you trying to do?  Practising Tatta Adavu of Bharatanatyam?”

It was then he demonstrated to me the art of making perfectly round rotis.  He showed me how the fingers should be nimble on the rolling pin.  “What should do the Bharatanatyam are your fingers, not your butt,” he said.

I turned out to be a good learner and mastered the Roti Adavu of Bharatanatyam.  The perfectly round rotis were a lot more delicious than those that replicated the shapes of Bharat or Taiwan.

PS. Written off the cuff for the “In(di)spire” column of Indiblogger, but it’s all true, really.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

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 of Ghar Vapsi. 

Kanva gave me that Ghar.  On the banks of the Malini.  The deer that came to look at their elegant eyes in the mirror of the river’s crystalline waters became my siblings.  Together we created our Ghar in the forest’s glen and glade.  Together we drank the waters of life from the fountainheads and honeycombs.  Together we distilled the joy of life through the mists that filtered down the netted brambles and briars. 

Then came Dushyanta to pluck me away from my Ghar.  That’s the inevitable fate of every nubile girl, I learnt later.  Dushyanta touched the dandelions that quivered in my navel and distilled the joy of life through the tremors that rocked my sinews beneath his caresses. 

And then he forgot me.  Leaving me with yet another Ghar Vapsi longing.

What do you think I am?  A thistledown that should float in dance according to the tunes played by your gods and godfathers?  Am I your toy?  Or a sacrificial lamb whose blood should be shed to satiate the lust of your lecherous gods? 

Leave me alone with my deer on the banks of the Malini.  I don’t need your Ghars which stink of lust and greed, and fraudulent creeds.  There can be no Ghar Vapsi for me. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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 online stores

It was an old locality inhabited by the Muslims.  They, armed with daggers, spears, guns were fully prepared to meet any situation.  When I learnt of their intentions to attack some Hindu areas, I organised 250 people including some known gangsters and raided Kaliar.  Then a strange thing happened.  While we had been killing men in one of the houses, we spotted a very beautiful girl.  The assailants led by me were instantly enamoured. They even started fighting among themselves to take possession of the girl.  I faced an extremely awkward situation and did not know what to do.  I tried my best to get the assailants to focus on real issues.  I abused and threatened them but they would not listen to me.  And suddenly the solution came.  The girl was after all causing this trouble and had to be eliminated.  I took my gun and shot her.  She died.  My associates were shocked and returned to the work.  Though it was against our principle to assault a woman, but it was done in an emergency and I still regret it.

Notice the tone of the writing.  Notice the lack of remorse, the cruelty, the underlying hatred.

And contrast it with anything of what Mother Teresa or her nuns have ever said or written.  Contrast almost anything related to the RSS and its affiliates with almost anything related to Mother Teresa and you will see why conversions by Mother Teresa would have been desirable. 

Did Mother Teresa actually convert people?  Here’s an article I wrote almost five years ago: Mother Teresa and Religious Conversion

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

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 look before I leaped.”

The frogs croaked.  “We have a Saviour who has killed the Serpent, our enemy.  Our Saviour has delivered us from Evil.”  The Leader chanted hymns of praise for Frog the Saviour, Avatar of God.  The frogs followed suit.

Soon a temple was erected on the tallest rock in the well.  Nobody was interested in listening to Frog’s explanations and entreaties.  Myths overpower truths, Frog realised.  Soon he would be a prisoner of myths in the well.  Rather, he would not have even the freedom to move about in the well.  He would be imprisoned in the temple. 

While the frogs were giving the finishing touches to the temple, Frog found a way to get out of the well.  Using the grass and roots on the wall of the well, he ascended. 

The temple looked marvellous when it was completed.  The frogs made a sculpture of their God and burst into croaks of worship.

They added a new ending to their Saviour myth.  After destroying their mortal enemy, Serpent, their Saviour had ascended back into heaven.  He now resides in Heaven delivering the frogs in the well from evils.

The temple resounded with devout croaks that cried to the Heaven ceaselessly.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

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 with sponsors and donors from Delhi most of whom were Hindus.  I observed the names on the list of participants, you see. 

One of the “partners” (as World Vision likes to call them) asked a question forthrightly.  “You declare yourself a Christian organisation.  What exactly do you mean by that?”  I cannot quote verbatim Dr Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India.  But his answer went something like this: “We do not look at the caste or creed of any child.  We do not run any institution for giving any particular religious education to the children.  We send the children to whichever school that exists in his or her community.  It may be a Panchayat school.  If an English medium school is available we make use of that too.  Letting a child grow up into a good citizen who is not only successful in her own life but also is useful to her society is all what our mission is.  Christianity is the religion that sustains us.”  [I have conjoined more than one answer of Dr Christian.]

We, the partners, met some of the beneficiaries of World Vision’s work in Delhi.  They were Rekha, Shabana Ali, Jyoti, and so on.  They spoke about how the NGO transformed their lives almost miraculously.  None of them mentioned any sort of religious activity. 

A Rajasthani dance by the children

It is possible that the work done by the NGO influences certain individuals who may choose to change their religion.  I don’t know what World Vision’s policy is about that.  I never cared to enquire about it simply because I am of the conviction that if any religion attracts anyone by the good work it does and motivates him to do similar good deeds, it is a welcome conversion.  This conviction of mine is applicable to any religion.  It is applicable to my non-religion, my atheism, too.  What is important is whether your religion or your atheism satisfies you intellectually and emotionally as well as helps you to be a good human being.  Nothing else matters when it comes to religion.

Delhi did surprise me yesterday.  I met people who have been contributing to World Vision for almost two decades.  I watched the enthusiasm of Delhiites who wished to do even more than what they were doing.  There were even college students who said they were contributing from their pocket money.  Delhi indeed has a heart.  I was excited to realise that.  I remain a confirmed atheist, however. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

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 various purposes throughout the history of mankind.  The churches and the temples stood bearing witness to the various conspiracies.

Akshardham Temple, Delhi

In a recent article, the renowned Malayalam novelist, M Mukundan, wrote about the innumerable threats he received when he had expressed his view that the Akshardham Temple on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi reminded him more of a Bollywood movie set than a place of worship.  The fact remains that the temple, which charges a hefty entrance fee, offers more infotainment and brainwashing than inspires spirituality of any sort.  The temple is a blatant display of power, an impressive exhibition of the political clout of a community of people.  The threats hurled at Mukundan were symbols of the multi-dimensional invincibility of religion.

When Aurangazeb or any other such puerile-minded ruler demolished certain places of worship or replaced them with others, they were in fact asserting their earthly power rather than bringing spiritual solace to their people.  When some of our contemporary political leaders mimicked the ancient ashwamedha ritual in order to consolidate a demolition squad of frenzied devotees in Ayodhya a few years ago, what they were actually trying to do was to become present day Aurangazebs proclaiming the power and glory of their religion, and through the religion, of themselves.  The show is still on though the actors have changed their seats.

Spirituality is a matter of the heart.  It is well-nigh impossible to attain spiritual states of mind in places that obscenely display splendour and affluence.  But who is concerned about spirituality?


Friday, February 20, 2015

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 untouchability.  The oil they extracted from the coconuts could not be used for any religious purposes unless touched by a Christian.  The touch of a Christian purified the oil produced by the low caste people.  Strange rules.  But such is religion: a bundle of absurd rules.  In those days of absurd rules, Kelu’s people would be punished brutally if they tried to learn Sanskrit, the language of the gods.  Now Sanskrit was being forced on Kelu’s children in the school though they didn’t want to study what they thought was a dead language.   Such is religion.  It drives you out of Edens or pushes you into ghar vapsi according to its whims and fancies.

When Kelu’s parents converted into Christianity, the oil produced by them ceased to be impure.  But they stopped producing oil and went to the city where they got peons’ jobs in some Christian school.  Kelu’s uncles and aunts had not converted and so turned out to be lucky because they got better jobs in the name of reservations for scheduled castes. 

“Ghar vapsi is an easy way to improve our lot,” Kelu said to his wife.  “What does it matter any way?  One god is as good as another.”

“O, we’ll have not just one but thousands of gods now,” said Neeli, Kelu’s wife, jubilantly. 

“And we’ll get some money too.”

“Thank the gods, they have finally become useful really.”

“A bit cheap, though,” realised Kelu when he saw the amount being offered for selling his god.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Systems and Perversions


 The last quarter of the 20th 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 more than such sums.  Today, people's identities are not straitjacketed by nationality or religion or language or any one parameter.  Parameters cut across one another making a complex network which transcends the sum of the parts.  Any leader who fails to understand that is sure to be a millstone hung around the nation’s neck. 

Leader: of a System or?

One of the questions that is shot at me frequently by different people nowadays is why I question the BJP so much when other political parties have been worse in many ways.  Yes, the other parties were steeped in corruption.  Their politicians were selfish and filled their pockets and their Swiss bank accounts with more zest than looking after the nation.  Greed and selfishness are normal human vices.  The BJP is guilty of a vice far more vicious than greed, jealousy, and the normal list of vices seen in moral science textbooks.

The BJP and its numerous allies like the VHP pervert the entire nation, the nation’s imagination.  Consider, for example, the interpretation given by the VHP to the Prime Minister’s statement on the need for communal harmony in the country.  The Times of India quotes the VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain, "The Prime Minister did not say 'minorities' nor did he mention any particular religion. The news traders are misreading his message to suit their agenda. When he has not taken any names, you have to see in what circumstances he has made the statements. The supposed attacks on churches have been going on for a while now but the PM never came out and spoke. He spoke only after the Delhi Police pointed out that 206 temples were attacked. He spoke on a day a temple was vandalized in the US." 

People like Surendra Jain create their own truths and shove them down the throats of jejune people who are more than willing to swallow whatever is given to them provided they perceive some benefit in doing so.  People like Surendra Jain replace truths with myths and falsehoods.  Such people should found new religions and write scriptures.  Instead, in India today, they enter politics and mess up the social networks in the country.  They bring fragmentation where there is integration, strife where there is peace, hatred where there is tolerance.  Worst of all, they fabricate a new history for the country.  Murderers of mahatmas and perpetrators of genocide are canonised and put up on pedestals in temples. 

Perverting a nation’s psyche is a crime that is far more vicious than stealing from the nation’s coffers or even using people as vote banks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

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 hatefully and stood there until I walked ahead and moved on indifferent to the cat’s ‘insolence.’  The man walked behind me because his superstitious belief consoled him that the disaster brought by the black cat would fall on the first person to walk the road after it had crossed it.  His religion, like most, was altruistic enough to pass on imminent disasters to others.

There is absolutely no cause-effect relationship between a cat (black or any colour) crossing our path and the inconveniences that may impede our day-to-day activities.  At any rate, the man’s spittle could not have possessed the supernatural power to avert such impediments.  All absolutely misperceived cause-effect relationships. 

I remember a story I read many years ago.  There was a sage who was troubled incessantly by rats which attacked his puja samagri.  He solved his problem by keeping a cat.  But the cat became so fond of him that it started posing impediments during the puja.  The sage solved the problem by tying up the cat while the puja was on.  Eventually the rats became extinct in the premises but the cat’s affectionate relationship with the sage continued. 

Years passed.  The sage died.  The cat was succeeded by its kitten which also grew up into a big cat though it did not disturb the puja in any way.  The disciples of the sage had seen a cat being tied up during the puja and thought that tying up a cat during the puja was an integral part of the ritual.  Thus a tied-up cat entered the canons of the ritual. 

Faith moving the mountains of Bamiyan
Most religious practices have some such banal origin.  But faith can move the mountains, as Jesus said.  Though Jesus was not unfortunate to see his statement in real action, we have been: we witnessed the Taliban fundamentalists moving the Buddhas of the Bamiyan mountains with dynamite.  What brought the dynamite to the Buddhas was religious faith. 

Of late, we have been witnessing some such dynamism in our own country too.  “In the country of the Buddha and the Mahatma,” as our Prime Minister realised though a little slowly and late.  Since the Buddha and the Mahatma are not on the priority list of the people whose support Mr Modi cannot ignore, he picked up Swami Vivekananda as a prop.  "The principle of equal respect and treatment has been a part of India's ethos. We believe that there is truth in every religion," the Prime Minister quoted the Swami. 

Swami Vivekananda is one who went to the extent of saying that playing football might take one nearer to heaven than reading the Gita.  The swami was very rational in his approach to religion and spirituality.  He did not endorse or condone ludicrous superstitions, let alone the intolerance and hatred they generate. 

Every religion, including the ones that sought the Prime Minister’s active intervention yesterday for invoking the spirits of the Buddha and the Mahatma, makes prolific use of superstitions particularly in their rituals.  It may be impossible to have religious practices without rituals.  Yet, I think, if religions tried to understand their faith a little more rationally, there would be less of dynamite and its dynamism and more of understanding and tolerance among human beings.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Destiny


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 much the stratagems of the reigning one.  A lot of people came and went, and still come and go, leaving their marks on my destiny. 

I try to produce art out of the marks.  Scars refuse to change shapes.  Scars are beyond my control.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be scars.

There is an invisible pied piper playing his tune to which the cosmos dances.  The planets move round prospective black holes.  Meteors collide.  Even the microscopic bacteria sway to that music.

In spite of all, in spite of all, there’s much that’s within my control. 
I choose certain steps of my existential dance.  However, inelegant they may turn out to be.  I have some choice, after all. 
In spite of the inelegance.

Many times, when the steps are inelegant I find my way.  My way. Such discoveries are not miraculous epiphanies.  Those are the ways in which I create myself.  Ways in which I alter my destiny.   

Sunday, February 15, 2015

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 narcissism that has gripped the adolescents like cancer.  Social networks and other chat sites have become the ultimate sources of “likes” for the youngsters.  And the “likes” are for the most frivolous pictures and comments.  The more frivolous, the better.

A part of my personal library
That’s one of the reasons why a visit to the Book Fair may not be of any benefit to the students, much as CBSE may try to bring books back to students.

The second reason, and more important perhaps, is that books are available at online shops at much cheaper rates than at the Book Fair.  I stopped visiting Book Fairs from the time I discovered Flipkart and later Amazon India.  The last two books I bought from Amazon came at an enriching discount of 48%.  These sites give away books free too.  I downloaded William James’s classical work, Varieties of Religious Experiences, absolutely free of cost from Flipkart last week on my tab.

A third reason why a Book Fair won’t make much difference to students is that CBSE actually does not have a curriculum and assessment system that encourage reading or inquisitiveness in general.  The novels prescribed by the Board in classes 9 to 12 are sure to massacre any budding taste for literature among youngsters.  The cynicism and misanthropy of Gulliver’s Travels, prescribed for class 9 “original and unabridged,” grates against the dreams and idealism of adolescence.   The humour as well as the subtle wisdom of Three Men in a Boat, prescribed again for class 9 with the same injunctions, strikes today’s generation as too bland if not “stupid.”  And the assessment is mostly memory-based, too textual, nothing stimulating for the brainy sort. 

It is a truism to state that reading is important.  There is no other activity that can enrich our minds as much as reading.  Nothing else opens the windows of imagination and awareness as much as books do.  Magic and dreams unfold on the pages of good books.  There are no friends better than books. 

Yet I choose the online shops over Book Fairs.  In fact, the frivolous crowds in Pragati Maidan send tremors down my spine. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

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 retreat for a conqueror.  Extricating from your victories is almost impossible.  It will be like letting the ground slip away beneath your very feet.  The new friends we made will review their allegiances the moment we begin to retreat.  Nobody wants to befriend a loser, a weakling.  The old enemies will return with vengeance, the moment you are on your retreat.  We have only one way, one direction, onward march until our death.

Death, spat out Coenus.  You are incapable of love.  So you speak so lightly of death.  You won’t ever understand the meaning of the sparkle that lights up the eyes of Roxana whenever she sees you.  You are filled with your own self.  A huge Ego, that’s what you are. 

Alexander smirked.  Was Achilles a mere ego?  Is Zeus an ego?  I am the Lord of the earth.  Or will be soon.  I have brought more than half of the earth under my feet.  I will conquer the rest too. 

For what?  Coenus stared into the Beas that was acquiring a penetrating sheen as the sun rose higher in the sky.  “Move out of my light,” the world will repeat what Diogenes told you.

Alexander remembered.  He visited Diogenes because unlike the other great teachers in the country that one man had refused to pay homage to Alexander the great conqueror.  He wished to make his visit dramatic.  Histrionics is part of the helplessness of a conqueror.  “Which wish of yours can I fulfil?” asked Alexander standing majestically before the philosopher who had even refused to stand up from his reclining position on the ground.  “Move out of my light,” was his insolent answer. 

“If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes,” said Alexander to Coenus as they moved away from Diogenes. 

I’m not Diogenes, roared Alexander when Coenus reminded him again of the master of the mind.  The roar struck the Beas producing ripples.  I am Alexander, Alexander the Great.  I don’t turn back.

A murmur arose among the soldiers.  Alexander could feel the murmur rising to a crescendo in his veins.  He went into his tent.  And sulked there for three days thinking that Coenus would come and ask for pardon.  But nothing happened.

So Alexander came out from his sulk.  And accepted defeat.  Alexander the Great is vanquished.  Only once.  By his own men.

But Alexander the Great won’t go back.  There’s no retreat for Alexander the Great.  We will take a different route, ordered Alexander.  We will sail down the Jhelum and the Indus.  To the Arabian Sea.  The great oceans will take us home. 

The oceans will rage for  Alexander the Conqueror. 

The Beas flowed quietly.  








Thursday, February 12, 2015

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.

Ashes they love.

Religious people love extinction and ashes.

Corporates love coffins (for their business value) and ashes (for their miracle value which can be sold).

Corporates are our kings now. 

We will bury you,
Angela,
again if we cannot display you as exhibits in our zoos.

Angela's people carried by a Nationalist to be exhibited in a zoo in 1889



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

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 wrote in the London Telegraph, “The revelation that the fabric (of Mr Modi’s Republic Day coat) had been woven to order in London and tailored in India for 1,000,000 rupees - around £10,000 - or more than ten years' wages for many of those who voted for Mr Modi in the hope of a higher standard of living - left him a little more frayed at the seams.

“The former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was another notable fan of the personalised pinstripe,” adds Nelson before concluding his article rather prophetically, “The personal pinstripe of hubris has met its nemesis in Mr Kejriwal's rickshaw wallah chic and Delhi's liberal intelligentsia is now hoping the trend will go national.” [emphasis added mischievously on ‘dictator’]

Mr Modi is a king.  But Arvind Kejriwal will continue to be an aam aadmi.  That’s my prediction.  Not in terms of security, however; by attitude.  Hence the latter will continue to treat Mr Modi with due respect.  It is Mr Modi who is likely to flout certain rules of the game because he has too long an experience in the game.

The New York Times wrote that “The election won’t affect Mr. Modi’s hold on the prime minister’s office and the federal government. But it will increase the enormous pressure to deliver on his economic and governance promises even while making that harder.”

In other words, Mr Modi can continue wearing his royal robes but will have to deliver on the promises made nine months ago.

The Guardian wrote: “The BJP’s dismal result came less than a year after Modi’s massive 2014 national election.

“That win came on the back of a pledge to bring development and reinvigorate India’s flagging economy. But in recent months, a series of incidents involving hardline rightwing groups that are part of the same broad political and cultural family as the BJP have raised concerns, as have controversial statements by junior ministers about religious minorities.”

I hope Mr Modi will realise that the time of Kings and their whims is over.  Not only the foreign fourth estate but also the Indian third estate have seen through his royal robes – seen the nudity of the King. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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 and hunger on the streets every year.  The Modi government did practically nothing to alleviate poverty in the country.  Rather he was keen to promote the interests of rich industrialists.  His bhashans on eradication of corruption began to ring hollow.  Swachh Bharat turned into a mirage after the initial euphoria and drama.

Majoritarianism need not be a good electoral technique when the whole world has gone far beyond such narrow thinking and considerations.  People of all kinds of religious faith and racial backgrounds have learnt to live together in most parts of the world.  It is not only a regressive step but a foolish one too to assert that India belongs to only those who believe in one religion.  True, Mr Modi didn’t make such statements.  But his culpability lies in not restraining his friends and supporters who kept on pushing extremely divisive agendas in the country.  When Christian churches were attacked one after the other in Delhi itself, Mr Modi refused to utter even a word about it.  None of the people belonging to minority communities would have felt secure under Mr Modi’s leadership.

Mr Modi’s development schemes did not reach most people.  His promises on things like bringing back the black money now sound absolutely hollow.  His party’s surreptitious move to erase secularism and socialism from the country’s Constitution did not go down well with many Indians.  The RSS and similar organs associated with the PM and his party corroded the PM’s credentials with their relentless hate speeches.

There were too many moments or occasions when Modi let out the impression that he thought of Indians as gullible fools who could be electrified with the magic of rhetoric. 


Frankly, I had not expected such a resounding victory for Mr Kejriwal though I had declared my support to his party openly.  Frankly, Mr Modi’s defeat (I see it that way) exhilarates me more than Mr Kejriwal’s victory.  It is not so much because my dislike of Modi is irrepressible as because I realise that Indians can’t be hoodwinked with silly sentiments dug up from the tombs of the long dead past. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

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.  The fish becomes the first incarnation of Vishnu.  Fish-vish, says Moopan.  Vishnu continued to take on avatars as and when required by those who wielded the power on the earth.

A bard am I, my father a leech,
And my mother a grinder of corn,
Diverse in means, but all wishing wealth,
Alike for cattle we strive.

Moopan sang.  Rig Veda, Mandala 9, he said.  My great, great, great, infinite times great grandfather lived in Harappa.  And they came.  The Aryans.  Armed with cattle.  Cows and bulls.  Cows were the currency.   Cows were the maal.   

Cows conquered Harappa and Mohenjo-Daru.  Moopan sipped his whisky.

They brought a language too along with the cattle, the language of their gods.  The language with which they enslaved people.  The language was a fire, a great sacrificial fire which merged everything into itself.  The local deities burnt in it and were reborn like phoenixes adding themselves to the burgeoning pantheon.  Ghar Vapsi is today’s avatar of the fire. 

“Hindutva is a cultural and civilisational ideology,” said Mohan Bhagwat on the TV, “and everybody living in India should consider himself a Hindu.  Ek bhasha, ek devta, ek sampraday banana hoga.  For unity we need uniformity ...”

Moopan laughed.  “Yet another aswamedha is going on,” he said.  “Varanasi was originally the city of God Shiva, you know?  He was dispossessed of it by the King Divodasa and God Brahma together.  Shiva was not one of the Vedic gods.  The Dasaswamedha ghat in Varanasi got its name from the ten horse-sacrifices made by the King of men to the King of gods. ”

The political power and the divine entities conspire together to dispossess whoever they choose of whatever they choose.  Without the gods, however, imagine where the human world would have been.  Moopan looked into my eyes.  Our science and technology have taken us already far beyond our own planet, to the divine milieu, to the realm of the stars.  That’s the aswamedha of science.  Conquests.  Somebody has to apply the brakes to the rockets.  That’s why gods are still required. 

“To dispossess man of the heavens?” I asked.

“Yes.”  Moopan refused to explain it further.  Some truths are so profound that they cannot be explained, Moopan had told me once.  “I can only ignite the spark,” he had said, “it’s your duty to keep it burning.”


As I walked back home I dreamt of the infinite cosmos as my ghar.  Is it ‘unity with uniformity’ that holds the cosmos together?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

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 to the folk, however.  I saw people who were intoxicated with more than politics though not only Delhi but even the satellite cities in Haryana and UP had declared dry days for 48 hours in view of the elections.  As I came out of the polling station I saw an old man (as old as me, probably, but looking much more with the stupor in his eyes and the stoop in his backbone) who was being prevented by a group advising him to erase the ink mark on his index finger before going in again.  He said he could not see any mark and looked all over both his arms which revealed many calluses apart from the usual stains that a farmer’s hands display.

Election is a festival for the common man.  For some, at least, it must be as good as a trek.  I was amused by the experience once more.
Non-political area of the village




Friday, February 6, 2015

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 the security of his God.

Whose India is it?  Wondered the knife
That lurked in the street’s bend
Ready to proffer the relevant twist
At the right time, in the present time.