Sunday, February 28, 2016

Alone in the marketplace

The overpopulated Kerala is discovering new tourist potential.  Aqua Tourism is a promise given at Palaikari in the outskirts of Kochi.  The place has already built up a website though the actual spot is still being developed.  Virtual reality strides far ahead of real reality.

Right now, before the virtual reality becomes real reality, if you are in search of some solitude in the marketplace, the place has much to offer.

Some pictures from the place:

Alone in a small boat with a plastic sail

Neither company nor development is far off

You can choose to be alone 
There are people who make both ends meet even there
A closer look at one such person (for whom neo-nationalism has no meaning)

Solitude is still available, if you want
Even solitude has to be paid for, however

You are in one of the many boats, after all

The bridge is not far 

Even the bulldozer is not far!

That bulldozer bit is a little personal exaggeration because of my personal experiences.

The rest is the story of the tourist attraction at Palaikari near Kochi in Kerala.  Their website:

PS; Don't believe virtual reality totally.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Here is a little story from the novel, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

            Once a boy came running in from play and asked, Mother, what is milk?  My friends say it is creamy and white and has the sweetest taste... Please, mother, I want milk to drink.

            The mother, who was too poor to buy milk, mixed some flour in water, added jaggery, and gave it to the boy.

            The boy drank it and danced in joy, saying, Now I, too, know what milk tastes like!

            And the mother, who through all the years of her hardship had never shed a tear, wept at his trust and her deception.

I am amazed by both the jejune credulousness seen in the country today and also the amount of deception being perpetrated because of that credulousness.  There is a lot of false propaganda going on among bloggers, social network users, the mass media, and even in the Parliament.  A lot of falsehood is dished out as gospel truths.  Many of our eminent parliamentarians are actors by profession and they continue that profession even in the parliament.  Acting is in the blood of all politicians, it seems.  Deception seems to have become part and parcel of life. 

Why are people so eager to lap up falsifications?  Political scientist, Dr Lawrence Britt, wrote a famous article listing the 14 defining characteristics of fascism.  If you read it, you will understand why this deception of the self and others is going on in our country.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Challenge for Mr Modi

No great leader emerges unless there is a crisis.  Mohandas Gandhi would have remained a mediocre lawyer had not the freedom struggle discovered the leadership qualities in him.  Abraham Lincoln would not have secured his present place in history without the crisis that challenged his potential in the form of the Civil War.

Mr Narendra Modi has his historical opportunity now to prove his station in history.  India is faced with a crisis called nationalism.

Nationalism, by definition, is excessive devotion to the interests of a particular nation-state.  It is valid when there is a threat to the autonomy of the nation-state.  India is not facing any such threat now.  Yet nationalism has become a craze among a sizeable section of the population.  

When there is no threat to the nation, the only other reason for nationalist sentiments to breed and spread is a desire to dominate.  It is an urge to impose a certain culture or religion or some such thing over the others.  What India is facing now is a monster called cultural nationalism. 

Mr Modi succeeded in politics largely because of the communal cards he has played on various occasions.  Development is the professed agenda and he has done much to bring development to the country too.  Whether the kind of development that he espouses is actually good for a country like India which has a very large number of underprivileged and marginalised people is a question that deserves attention.  But that is not the topic of this article which is concerned with the crisis of cultural nationalism and the historical opportunity it offers to Mr Modi.

A lot of people within the country have become the country’s enemies (“antinational”) according to Mr Modi’s supporters.  The Dalits are enemies because they reject the particular version of Hinduism that is being imposed on them by the cultural nationalists.  The Left thinkers and their supporters are antinational because they reject Hindutva.  Those who advocate secularism are labelled as sickularists.  The liberal press has become presstitute.  Certain food items have been denied to people belonging to a particular religion that has become the favourite enemy of the nationalists.  Dissidence is projected as sedition.  Lawyers who are supposed to uphold the law go berserk in the abode of justice which they convert into a kangaroo court.  Rationalists, atheists and liberal thinkers are all antinational in that kangaroo court.  Kangaroo courts decide who can marry whom, who can fall in love with whom, who can eat what, wear what dress, think what thoughts, write what comments in online sites... 

In a recent article in The Hindu, Srinivasan Ramani defined cultural nationalism as an urge which “basically seeks to subsume the ‘other’ within a limiting construct of the self and the nation.”  Cultural nationalism is an extremely narrow worldview which is totally intolerant of diversity.  It is very detrimental to the very existence of India as a nation simply because there is infinite diversity in this country. 

And that is the challenge for Mr Modi.  How is he going to resolve this crisis?  History will judge him as a leader based on how he will deal with this crisis. 

A century ago, Max Weber spoke about two kinds of ambitions that a leader usually has: personal and bureaucratic.  Mr Modi has achieved the highest post in the bureaucratic ladder.  What is left is his personal ambition (unless he wants to be the contemporary Hitler with territorial ambitions in addition to cultural ones).  It is no secret that he is an RSS man fundamentally.  Cultural nationalism is the lifeblood of RSS.  It is that cultural nationalism that is spreading across the country like a deadly virus.  How will he deal with the virus that spread from himself?  That is Mr Modi’s challenge.

If Mr Modi does not want to accept the diversity in the country, if he wants to impose one particular culture and religion on the country, he has to either get all the divergent cultures and other entities to merge into his culture or vanquish the divergent entities altogether.  Is there any other way?  That is Mr Modi’s challenge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mumbai: Maximum City

Book Review

Title: Maximum City: Bombay Lost & Found
Author: Suketu Mehta
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2004

Every city has a fascinating history that lies beneath its imposing concrete edifices.  It is the history written on invisible pages by people who will never appear in the actual history books, people like gangsters and prostitutes.  And the person on the street too.  Suketu Mehta’s magnum opus unravels that invisible history of Mumbai in a gripping narrative that reads almost like a novel.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1, titled ‘Power’, constitutes almost half of the book and is about the people who actually wield the power in the city.  The book speaks about the Mumbai of 1990s and hence this part begins with the riots that assailed the city soon after the Babri Masjid demolition in Dec 1992.  The Muslims in Mumbai reacted against the Babri Kasjid demolition and Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena was quick to exploit the situation for political gains.  In Jan 1993, Thackeray’s goons systematically massacred the Muslims in the city.  Thackeray soon found his match in the Muslim mafia dons who detonated ten bombs one after the other in March.  The Hindu-Muslim divide became total.  Now, religion determined “how often you will bathe, where you will shit” because the water supply to the Muslim areas was curtailed and the toilets became unusable.

Life thrives even if you cut off basic amenities.  Life will find its own ways of moving on.  But crime becomes an integral part of such existence.  Mumbai became a city of increasing crimes.  The communal divide forced the Muslim youth to find occupations in the underworld which was dominated by Muslims.  Mehta gives us a detailed description of the Mumbai underworld.  We meet the gangsters belonging to Dawood Ibrahim and Chotta Rajan as well as of the lesser ones like Arun Gawli and Chotta Shakeel.  The writer shows us that a gangster is essentially a narcissist with a deadly mix of egotism and self-hatred.  At the same time, we also learn that the politicians are bigger criminals than the gangsters.  “We fight among ourselves, but these people (the politicians) are ruining the whole world,” says Chotta Shakeel.  It is quite true too because the gangsters never attack innocent people (except indirectly in bomb blasts or similar situations) while the politicians pervert the people’s psyche. 

Suketu Mehta
The book shows how the police are either helpless or are in cahoots with the gangsters.  The police also employ the same strategies of the gangsters and make use of encounter killings to eliminate certain people.  “The police, the newspapers, and the courts all keep up the fiction of the encounter killing,” says Mehta.  The encounter drama is an open secret.

Titled ‘Pleasure,’ Part 2 presents the dance bars and red streets of the city.  We are given detailed life stories of Monalisa, a bar dancer, and Honey who is actually a man but dances as a woman in a bar.  This section gives us enlightening peeps into Bollywood and its inevitable connections with both the underworld and the red street.

The last part deals with immigrants.  People from all over the country gravitate towards Mumbai. Once again we get some moving details about certain individuals who tried to make their life in the maximum city.  What I found most fascinating in this section, however, is the story of a Gujarati diamond dealer who suddenly gave up his lucrative business and took to religion.  He, along with all his family members, renounced the family’s fabulous wealth in order to become Jain monks.  Mumbai is paap ni bhoomi, land of sins, according to him.  He had committed his share of sins already, a fat share, in fact. 

The book is a masterpiece.  Very few writers would do the kind of research that Suketu Mehta did.  He spent more than two years with the gangsters and dance girls, with the immigrants and other strugglers, before writing the book.  He met people who matter too, people like Bal Thackeray, police officers, Amitabh Bachchan, and a host of others.  Mehta is never judgmental.  He tries to put every person into perspective; we see each one of them from various angles and feel pity rather than contempt or hatred.  We understand them better.  We understand why some people are what they are.  And that’s precisely the greatness of the book. 

A warning for the weak-hearted: you may find the book highly disturbing in many places.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Incredible Wonderland

“Have I gone mad?” Alice wonders in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  And the answer she gets is: “I’m afraid so; but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”  If she were not mad, she wouldn’t have travelled in Wonderland, in the first place.  That’s another argument Alice gets in the classical novel.

The world of literature is a world of madness.  A world of dreams, let us make it more acceptable.  All good literature is the author’s way of dealing with the demons within him/her.  Imagine Shakespeare were alive today’s India.  How would he dramatise what is happening in the country?  One young man who fought for getting certain benefits for his caste or community was thrown in prison labelled as “antinational”.  Another young man who rather unimaginatively questioned the hanging of a person whose crime was not proved conclusively even by the Supreme Court’s own implicit admission is now facing the charge of sedition.  It is happening in a country which is boasting of one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world though more than half of its population live in slums and quasi-slums unable to eat proper food, let alone get education or healthcare.  Would these poor people become antinational if they start demanding certain basic human rights?  How would Shakespeare dramatise the conflict?

Where will the lawyers who let loose physical assault on those whom they condemned as guilty without waiting for the trial and judgement and then went on to cock a snook at the Supreme Court itself be in Shakespeare’s moral vision?  On the side of the hero or that of the villain?

Who will be sane in the contemporary Shakespearean drama?  Will it be comedy or tragedy?  Or simply a dark play as complex as our ancient Mahabharata itself?

I’m reminded of a classical joke from Albert Camus, one of my all-time favourites.  A mad man is sitting near a bath tub in a lunatic asylum.  He has a fishing rod complete with the hook and the line and he is trying to catch fish from the tub.  The psychiatrist, happy to see his patient looking so calm, asks him, “Hey, Fred, got any fish?”  Fred, the mad man, looks at the psychiatrist contemptuously and asks, “Are you mad?  This is only a bathtub.”

I think Shakespeare would find ample such scenes in contemporary India.  Who is a patriot here and who is antinational?  Who is a statesman (if there’s any) and who is a criminal?  Who is sane and who is mad?

Alice wants to leave the wonderland.  “Which is the way?” she enquires. 

“Where do you want to go?”  The King asks her.

“Back among my people.  The normal world, you know.”

The King stared at her.  Then he summoned his knights.  “Arrest her for sedition.”

Monday, February 22, 2016


Struggle stories have the potential to destroy us as much as they have for inspiring.  A Shah Rukh Khan may eject himself from Delhi in order to find stardom in Bollywood, having gone through the necessary agonies and sporadic ecstasies on the way.  An Anupam Kher may land in Bombay from Simla possessing little more than two pairs of khadi kurta-pyjamas, walk daily from Bandra to the Prithvi Theatre and survive on vada-pav bought with money obtained through tutoring children... and eventually become a star.  For every SRK and for every Anupam, there are thousands who ruin their lives in the alleys and byways of Bollywood. 

Standing in the autumn of life, I look back and pat myself on the back for not harbouring big dreams.  I wanted to be a writer.  That was the only dream I really had.  And I became a blogger.  At least that.  Small dreams, smaller achievements, no disappointments. 

It’s only when my laptop went on strike a few days back that I realised writing was not a dream for me at all, but an addiction.  I tried to write blogs using my tab but found it extremely tedious.  All the ten fingers flying on the laptop’s real keyboard is part of the addiction which cannot be gratified with one finger typing on the tab’s virtual keyboard.  

The laptop could have been repaired in a day.  But hartal is an addiction for the political activists in Kerala where I have found my latest abode.  Two consecutive days of hartal (one of which was specially designed for my district only) for reasons that are yet to become clear to me kept my laptop locked up with the mechanic. 

When the mechanic rang me a few hours back to tell me that the work was done, the cool breeze that passed through my breast which had been drenched by the sultry summer heat made me realise that there are still some things that make life interesting to me.  This narcissistic raving, for example.

Anupam Kher’s protest against the attempts of JNU to decimate the country has already become stale news by the time I am reunited with my laptop.  SRK has learnt the lesson about his right to silence.  Our Prime Minister, who is also proud of his rags-to-supremacy story, thinks that JNU protesters and Haryana Jats are conspiring against him because he ascended from a lowly background. 

The problem is not the background.  I’m sure the PM knows that though he pretends otherwise for political and strategic reasons.  The problem is our addictions.  Some love power.  Some love fame.  I love my laptop, it seems.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Antinational Dreams

I am antinational
Because I dream
I dream about walking without the chains
That shackled my forefathers
With slogans woven from scriptures

Antinational I am
Because I dream
For azadi

In the dark alleys resounding with putrid slogans
They killed the Mahatma again and again
And erected temples for the killers
Rewrote history
Fabricated myths
Killed rivals in encounters

In the moonlight of dreams
I clamoured for azadi
Azadi from the darkness
To which they were dragging me
Azadi, I wanted, from darkness.

Standing in the moonlight
I could see the distant dawn

They called me antinational
Because I saw the dawn

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Nationalism in the time of Globalism

In the verdict that hanged Afzal Guru, the Supreme Court observed that "... the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded..."  The plain truth was known to all that there was only a circumstantial evidence against Guru, nothing that could fetch him the hangman's noose.  But the nation wanted a hanging, and Guru was hanged.

We don't want this sort of entertainment any more - that's what some students of JNU said.

Going against national pastimes is treason; doesn't JNU know that?

Some criminal elements took advantage of the opportunity to shout antinational slogans.  Such elements should be dealt with appropriately.  If they belong to ABVP, they should be taught good manners first. If they are other disgruntled elements, the national conscience may require to be satisfied.

Is nationalism justified when we have opened up everything including our self-respect to the global market? We have a Prime Minister who spends most of his time abroad. Our economy is driven by MNCs. We are begging other countries to come with investments. How can we shout nationalist slogans when the foreigners come to "Make (in) India"?

Anti-national sloganeers should definitely be tackled in such a way as to satisfy the national conscience. But nationalist organisations should realise that they have become pathetic anachronisms.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Playground of Life

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

For a summary of the previous parts or for the links to the parts themselves, click here.


The presence of police on the campus baffled Ishan.  Over a month had passed since Ishan started getting used to the choice of millions.  Flowing with the current is the choice of millions, he said to himself as he understood the system more and more.

“A fight between two boys,” Mr Hemant Hooda said when Ishan enquired about the police presence.

Hemant was the psychology teacher.  He was the first among the staff to make friends with Ishan while most others kept a suspicious distance.  Hemant was of the same age as Ishan.

One of the students of class eleven picked a fight with the son of the music teacher, Mr Shivprasad Mishra.  “Teasing is a very common problem among the boys.  Junior Mishra attracts more teasing than others for various reasons.”  Hemant explained that being a teacher’s son was enough reason to attract negative attention.  Being Mr Mishra’s son is an added attraction.

Shivprasad Mishra was a musician of some repute.  All India Radio used to air his ghazals occasionally.  He had all the hubris and eccentricity that artists usually possess, perhaps a little more than the normal quota.  “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge, doesn’t the Bible say that?”

“Hm,” Ishan mumbled his assent indifferently.  He was not interested in listening to Biblical wisdom. 

The management was extremely displeased with Mr Mishra and even terminated his service once.  Hemant narrated.  He took the matter to court.  The affair was hushed up soon with an out-of-court settlement.  “It altered his stature in the school altogether because winning a case against Mr Sitaram Rana is news indeed.”

Ishan wondered why that was so.

“Mr Rana is a very powerful person with influence in the government.  He can buy off lawyers and even judges.  His thugs can threaten or beat up anyone anywhere.  In many ways he’s no different from a mafia don.”

“But someone told me he was a very religious person.”

“He is.  He is that too among many other things.”

Choice of millions.  The phrase resounded in Ishan’s psyche.

“How did Mr Mishra win against him, if Mr Rana is so powerful?”

“To win, you have to use the same strategies employed by your enemy.  Mr Mishra has some relative who is an MP from Bihar and who won the election by booth-capturing.  He sought the assistance of the MP.  Mr Rana has steel mines in Bihar.  You see the connections.”

“I also heard that Mr Rana has connections with Devlok.”

“Indeed.  He’s the son of one of the founders of the ashram, Mahendra Rana.  The present Baba’s father and Mahendra were bosom friends.  The land on which Kailash Public School stands was originally grabbed by Mahendra Rana in the name of the ashram.  All the money that Sitaram Rana invested in the steel industry was siphoned off by his father from the ashram, people say.”

“But Mr Sitaram Rana is a very religious person,” Ishan repeated it, this time to himself.

“He is,” Hemant repeated his answer.  “He is that too among many other things.”

“Who called the police on the campus?  A problem between two students should be solved in the school itself, isn’t it?”

“Mr Mishra has his own ways beaten by his gigantic ego.  But he has reasons to be inflamed this time.  His son lost a tooth, you see.”

“Lost a tooth!  In the fight?”

“Yes, he was punched squarely on the face.  Otherwise the boy wouldn’t have gone to his father with a complaint.  Class eleven is not an age when boys can go crying to their parents for levelling out their problems with classmates, is it?”

“Why are the police sitting in the Vice Principal’s office rather than the Principal’s?”  Ishan had noticed that as soon as he came out from his class and was going towards the staff room.

“The Princi and Mr Mishra are at loggerheads with each other.  There’s an interesting story about them here.  Once the Princi issued an official letter of warning to Mr Mishra for neglect of duty or something of the sort.  Mr Mishra read it standing in the Princi’s office and then rolled it up contemptuously.  Thrusting the roll on to the face of the Princi, he said, 'Shove it up your arse, you Bum-bum.'”

Ishan laughed.  He thought that Kailash was a very charming place.  Bum-bum.  Actually Mr Abhimanyu Chaturvedi was gifted with a rich bum, Ishan recalled with amusement.

“And Mr Mishra sang a ghazal in a school function on the next day:

It’s a battle of wits in the playground of life;
The clown sits on the throne while his knights wield the knife.”

Hemant actually sang the lines.
“You’re a good singer,” complimented Ishan.

“Thank you, dost.  Do you sing?”

“Not at all.  Even a nursery rhyme remains beyond me,” confessed Ishan.

“You’re very fond of reading.  I see you are one of the rare teachers who frequent the library.”

“Books don’t play games like people,” said Ishan.

“Ha ha ha,” Hemant laughed loud and long as if Ishan had cracked the best joke of the year.  “What’s life, friend, but a series of games played by people?  Some games are interesting enough to appear in history books, while others belong to the common marketplace.”

“Where would you place Mr Sitaram Rana?”  Ishan was curious.  “In history or the common marketplace?”

“Borderland, like most people with big ambitions.  He is the kind that will make a lot of noise as long as there is the mafia to shoot for them and vanish without a trace once their lungs become too weak to suck in the air.  Like Bal Thackeray, for example.”
“The guardian of Maratha pride.”

“Sentiments, not pride.  There’s a big difference.  Have you heard about his dalliance with Michael Jackson.  When Jackson wanted to perform in Bombay, what did the Maratha Tiger do?  He became a plunderer.  He demanded that the entire collection of the first concert should be donated to the Shiv Sena.  Four crore rupees just for the asking.  When Jackson agreed to give the alms, Thackeray raised another demand.  That’s how the game goes.  You push as much as it goes.  And it can go a lot depending on how hard you can push and how soft your target is.”

“What was the next demand?”

“That Jackson should perform in Bombay only with the blessings of the Tiger.  In short, pay him a personal visit first.  Ego boosting, after plundering.  That’s how the game goes.  And Jackson knew the game.  He agreed again.  And what did he do?  ‘I wanna piss,’ he said as soon as he entered the Tiger’s den.  And the Tiger led him personally to the toilet.  Jackson pissed to his heart’s content in the Tiger’s den.  And the roaring custodian of the Maratha pride kept that toilet unused after that and showed it off even to the media as Michael Jackson’s autograph in the Maratha Tiger’s mansion.”

Ishan laughed.

“Sitaram Rana is the Bal Thackeray of Kailash Public School,” Hemant concluded.

“Amen,” Ishan reciprocated.


Indian Bloggers

Thursday, February 11, 2016


The novel, Black Hole, continues.

For those who came in late, the story so far:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by Sitaram Rana.  The Ashram was founded by Kailash Baba. Aaron Matthews from London was the most beloved disciple. Amarjeet and Mahendra contributed to the material welfare of the ashram.  Jane Abercrombie, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, is disillusioned with Amarjeet who taught her the Non-Being of Kamasutra and gave her a son, Nitin, in the process. Mahendra discovers that he has a son back there in Kurukshetra and gets a new purpose for his existence. Rachel, Aaron's wife visits him in Delhi having obtained a free journey in the company of the Mountbattens who came to give Independence to India.  Rachel returns to England realising that she has lost Aaron to Indian spirituality.  Mohandas Gandhi's assassination eclipses the murder of Aaron by Amarjeet and Mahendra who have their own ambitions to which Aaron was a perceived hindrance.

Ishan Salman Panicker is an English teacher at Kailash Public School.  When Sitaram Rana, Mahendra's son, hands over the school to the newly founded Kailash Educational and Environmental Trust, Ishan's spirituality is stirred.  He begins to write a gospel.  Ishan's gospel has its roots in Shillong where he was born of hybrid parentage: a Keralite Hindu father and a Khasi Catholic mother, the latter of whom had a Bangladeshi Muslim father.  Shankara Panicker, Ishan's father, was one of the victims of Indira Gandhi's Emergency.  So Father Joseph Kunnel became the boy's guardian. The priest and the boy had little in common.  Eventually Ishan left Shillong along with his wife, Jenny, and got a job at Kailash whose Vice Principal questions how Ishan would make the school a choice of millions. 

Read on:


Choice of millions,” Uttam Kumar Sharma repeated it with a subdued chuckle.

“Does it amuse you?”  Ishan asked gingerly.

“It’s Mr Tandon’s favourite slogan.”

“So he has other slogans too?”

Uttam looked at Ishan.  Into his eyes.  You are not a fool – that was the meaning of the look.  Ishan thought so, at least.  They were sitting in the House Master’s office on opposite sides of the office table.

“He is a man of slogans,” Uttam said.  “You will learn about his slogans soon.”

“Do words mean more than deeds here?”  As soon as he asked that, Ishan thought he should not have.

The subdued chuckle again.

“Well, Mr Panicker, why did you leave a college lecturer’s job?”

How did this man know that I was a college lecturer? 

“Well,” Ishan cleared his throat.  “Health problems, first of all.”

“Shillong is a hill station, ideal for health.  Your Wordsworth would have loved to live in Shillong.”

Ishan felt alerted.  Kailash is a dangerous place, he thought.   How did this man know so much about him, even about his fondness for the Romantics?  It was then Ishan noticed the book that Mr Sharma had apparently been reading and was placed on the table with the bookmark showing.   Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

“The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, their colours and their forms were an appetite to Wordsworth, isn’t it?”  Uttam went on.

Ishan thought of Briony Tallis, the protagonist of Atonement.  “A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”  He found himself quoting from Atonement.  “However colourful the mountains may be and however gloomy the woods,” he added.

“So, you are going to help us make Kailash the choice of millions?”

Ishan could easily sense the tone of naughtiness in the question.  “Do we have the place to accommodate even a thousand, let alone millions?”

Mr Sharma laughed.  A very controlled laugh. 

“You must have already learnt that we have only five hostels each with a capacity of hundred beds.”

“I found their names interesting,” said Ishan.  “Agasthya, Bhardwaja, Gautama, Janaka and Vasishta.”

“The great sages of a bygone era.  Our founder is a very religious person.  Mr Sitaram Rana.  He chose the names of the hostels himself.”

“You seem to be interested in English literature.  Sanskrit teachers ...”

“... usually regard English as their enemy, right?  I have a Masters in English too.”

“Wow!  But Sanskrit is your first love?”

“Not entirely.  I’m not comfortable with English literature.  Not with teaching it, at least.”

“Why does the Vice Principal want to make Kailash the choice of millions?”  Ishan found himself hopping from one topic to another.  The Vice Principal was a calculated choice, however.  It was important to understand the person who looked rather ominous.

“Oh, don’t take that very seriously.  I told you already he’s in love with slogans.  Once, a few years back, he took us staff members for an outing.  A movie and dinner.  The dinner was at Haldiram’s.  He saw their signboard: HALDIRAM’S SWEETS & NAMKEEN: Choice of Millions.”

“Are his other slogans borrowed from some sweets and namkeen dealers too?”

Mr Sharma chuckled.  “No.  He borrows from Arthashastra too.  It depends on the need and the occasion.  He’s a great man who has worked abroad too as a teacher.”

“I felt a little uneasy with him.  I thought he viewed me with some suspicion or even dislike.”

“There’s nothing to be alarmed.  He was not in the interview board that selected you and that’s the only reason.  He does not trust other people’s capacity to judge the candidates.”

“Does it mean he does not trust the Principal too?”

Mr Sharma stared momentarily at Ishan and then returned to his normal, cool self.  “Welcome to the choice of millions, Mr Panicker.”

He got up.  The bell had sounded for dinner.
“Aren’t you joining us for dinner?”  It was none other than, Mr Abhimanyu Chaturvedi, the Principal, who asked that.  Ishan was going towards the staff quarters where Jenny was waiting for him. 

“My wife is alone at home.”

“Why don’t you bring her along too?  Today’s your first day at Kailash, so give us the pleasure of offering dinner to your family.”

Ishan tried his best to decline the invitation.

“No, no, don’t invent excuses,” said Mr Chaturvedi very amiably.  “Take your time but bring her along.  I’ll wait for you.  Remember the dining hall will close after half an hour.”

Jenny had no choice but change her dress quickly and accompany her husband to the enormous dining hall of his new workplace whose sylvan environs had already sponged up some of her fears and apprehensions. 
While Jenny was changing her dress, Ishan looked at the TV which was reporting about the communal riots in Gujarat.  “The situation seems to be totally out of control,” the reporter was saying.  “Houses belonging to a particular community are being set on fire and the fire is spreading rapidly...”

Somewhere in the city of Vadodara, a young woman named Zaheera Sheikh stood on the balcony of her friend’s house and watched in helpless stupefaction all the members of her family along with a couple of their staff being engulfed by fires of hatred.  Best Bakery which also served as their residence was in flames.  It was locked from outside by some people whose slogans would remain beyond Zaheera Sheikh’s  comprehension for years.  The religious fervour of those slogans would go on scorching her in a different way even years after all her beloved people were interred. 


Chapter 1: The Original Sin

Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary
     2.5 The Lost Sheep
     2.8 The Y Chromosome
     Chapter 3: Heart of Darkness
     3.1 Heart of Darkness
     3.4 Longings

Chapter 4: Choice of Millions

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Choice of Millions

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

For those who came in late, the story so far:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by Sitaram Rana.  The Ashram was founded by Kailash Baba. Aaron Matthews from London was the most beloved disciple. Amarjeet and Mahendra contributed to the material welfare of the ashram.  Jane Abercrombie, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, is disillusioned with Amarjeet who taught her the Non-Being of Kamasutra and gave her a son, Nitin, in the process. Mahendra discovers that he has a son back there in Kurukshetra and gets a new purpose for his existence. Rachel, Aaron's wife visits him in Delhi having obtained a free journey in the company of the Mountbattens who came to give Independence to India.  Rachel returns to England realising that she has lost Aaron to Indian spirituality.  Mohandas Gandhi's assassination eclipses the murder of Aaron by Amarjeet and Mahendra who have their own ambitions to which Aaron was a perceived hindrance.

Ishan Salman Panicker is an English teacher at Kailash Public School.  When Sitaram Rana, Mahendra's son, hands over the school to the newly founded Kailash Educational and Environmental Trust, Ishan's spirituality is stirred.  He begins to write a gospel.  Ishan's gospel has its roots in Shillong where he was born of hybrid parentage: a Keralite Hindu father and a Khasi Catholic mother, the latter of whom had a Bangladeshi Muslim father.  Shankara Panicker, Ishan's father, was one of the victims of Indira Gandhi's Emergency.  So Father Joseph Kunnel became the boy's guardian. The priest and the boy had little in common.  Eventually Ishan left Shillong along with his wife, Jenny, and got a job at Kailash.

Read on:


How will you make Kailash the choice of millions?”

The question stunned Ishan.  It was his first day as PGT in English at Kailash Public School.  The day had passed pretty well except for the normal problems of both the teacher and the students getting used to each other.  He was summoned by the Vice Principal in the evening while he was in a study room of Vasishta Hostel supervising what was known as ‘prep’ during which the students revised the day’s lessons and completed the pending assignments.

Pradeep Kumar Tandon.  Ishan had read the name of the Vice Principal on the door of his office as he entered.
“This school has had a great reputation,” Mr Tandon explained himself with a veiled expression which Ishan perceived as scorn.  “There was a time when parents used to stand in a long queue to seek admissions for their wards here.  The situation has changed rather drastically in the last few years.  What do you suggest for bringing back the lost glory?”

Ishan was confused in spite of the explanation.  Whether it was the question or the scorn which marked it that confused him, he was not sure.  He was used to scorn, thanks to Father Joseph Kunnel.  The priest had used that as a deadly weapon with the noble intention of salvaging the aberrant soul of the lost sheep.  No, the priest himself did not display scorn overtly.  He got all the people under his influence in the little town of Shillong to shower scorn on Ishan.  People were more than happy to oblige the priest.   “Every village loves its own idiot or its own lunatic,” Ishan told Jenny once.  “The idiot carries all the idiocy of the people and the lunatic carries all their insanity.  Scapegoat.”  Jenny did not understand what he meant.  She wondered whether he was really going insane.
“No one is after you.  It’s all in your imagination,” she told him with some consternation.
“The priest is not what he seems,” Ishan tried to explain.  “He uses other people to denigrate me.  They will come, sit near me and discuss things which the priest wants me to hear.  Today they were comparing Hamlet and Othello.”

“What’s Hamlet and Othello got to do with you?”  Jenny was also an English teacher and didn’t need introduction to Shakespearean tragedies.

“The philosopher vacillates while the warrior performs, they said.  Hamlet can go on endlessly asking which is better: to be or not to be.  Othello has to act.”

Jenny looked at him as if to make sure whether he was indeed insane.
“I’m faced with Hamlet’s question again and again,” Ishan said pouring another drink of a cheap whisky into his glass.  “When you’re faced with a situation that screws you thoroughly, what do you do?  Fight or flight?”  He became Hamlet.  “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam – and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?”  Ishan-Hamlet raised his glass of whisky as if it was a chalice and said, “This is my blood.  Let the priest come and drink it.”  He gulped it down at one go.  And became Hamlet once again.  “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away. To be, or not to be?  That is the question – whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”  He poured another drink and continued, “Can Hamlet take up arms against a sea of troubles?”  He asked Jenny.
“Shall I go?”  Jenny asked. 

“Where?”  “To recite the rosary.  It’s time for the evening prayer.”
“To recite mantras?  Are you a pagan, Jenny?  How many Hail Marys recited like pagan chants will take you to heaven?  None.  Heaven belongs to little children.  Don’t you know that?  If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, be like the little children.  Do you know who said that?”  He paused for the answer.  But Jenny remained silent.  He ignored her.  “ Fight or flight?  No, Hamlet cannot take up arms.”  Ishan continued dramatically.  “If he does, he will become Othello.  And put out the light, and then put out the light.”

“As a teacher, what can you do?”  Mr Tandon repeated the question.

“Sir...” said Ishan hesitantly.  He cleared his throat and vacillated like Hamlet.  “I’ve just joined the school,” finally he said.  “Please give me some time to get used to the system...”

“The system, yes!”  Mr Tandon exclaimed as if Ishan had said something revolutionary.  “The system.  We have to strengthen the system.  How can you do that as a teacher?”

Ishan said with some affected fervour that he would carry out his duties with total commitment.

“That’s a very generic statement.  Be precise, Mr Panicker.  For example, the spoken English of our students is very poor.  How will you improve that?”

“Make them speak only English, sir,” said Ishan.  “There’s no other way.”

“How will you make them speak English?”

“The system, sir.”  Ishan said spontaneously.  He thought that the system was the panacea for all the evils in Kailash.

Mr Tandon’s scorn mutated into a scowl instantly though the scowl was also rather veiled.

Is this another version of the priest?  Ishan felt like retching.  He swallowed the retch and said with the histrionics that usually accompanied his ego whenever it perceived some threat, “Have you heard of Noam Chomsky, sir?”  Namedropping was part of the histrionics.  “He is an eminent linguist.  He says that language is inborn in all of us.  That inborn ability, which he calls Language Acquisition Device or LAD, is what distinguishes a human baby from a donkey baby.  Expose the child to a language for a few weeks and it will absorb it naturally while the colt won’t even if you immerse it in the language for a century...”

“That’s interesting, Mr Panicker,” intercepted Mr Tandon.  “We’ll discuss this later.”  He went on to give some exhortations about the sacred responsibilities of a teacher in a residential school.
“Had an interesting interaction?”  Mr Uttam Kumar Sharma, Sanskrit teacher and the House Master of Vasishta Hostel, asked Ishan when he returned to his duty in the hostel.
“Yeah,” said Ishan, “he was teaching me the choice of millions.”



Chapter 1: The Original Sin

Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary
     2.5 The Lost Sheep
     2.8 The Y Chromosome
     Chapter 3: Heart of Darkness
     3.1 Heart of Darkness
     3.4 Longings