Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nationalism of the Deprived


Those who can afford it are leaving India.  According to a report by New World Wealth published in today’s Times of India, 4000 Indian millionaires chose to leave the country in 2015 and settle down elsewhere.  They are rich enough to abandon nationalism and embrace internationalism. 

Source: TCN Cartoon
The godman is missing from the cartoon because he is an internationalist!
Nationalism is for those who can’t afford internationalism.  Those who can’t afford to leave the country will have to accept the laws and regulations about what to eat, what to speak, what to wear, etc from certain groups of people who have the support of the ruling party at the centre. 

The report says that France witnessed the highest outflow and the reason is the religious tension in the country.  Other European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Sweden and UK are likely to face the problem of emigration because of religious reasons.  Perhaps, religion is the major villain in most countries which their citizens choose to leave behind.  Including India. 

How ironical it is that religion, which is supposed to make human beings good and merciful, has become the biggest villain of the century.  Isn’t it time to take a re-look at this villainous entity?  isn’t it time to usher in a new era of Enlightenment?

Religion has always been a handmaid of political power.  Different rulers have made use of it in different ways to keep people suppressed.  In independent India, no regime succeeded in converting religion into a tool of mass oppression as the present one at the centre has. 

The same regime has put in place a system which makes more and more millionaires who can leave the country and settle down comfortably in any country of their choice.  Nationalism is not for them.  The same system ensures that there will be a significant population left behind in perpetual poverty on whom nationalism can continue to be imposed by those wielding the power.  After all, in order to exercise power, there must be some subjects. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Poet meets Bharat Mata

Courtesy: The Indian Express



Moving from Ghar Wapsi to Bharat Mata,
Through Cow Protection and slaughter of men,
The poet sought meaning
Knowing rhyme there was none
Rhythm there was none
In spite of the umpteen slogans:
Make in India
Start-up India
Digital India

Democracy struggled for breath
In the attenuated air in the Arunachal mountains,
In the Devbhumi of the Garhwal Himalaya;
And promised to die in Himachal and Manipur.

“What is it that you want, Mother?”
The poet asked Bharat Mata.
And she said hiding the tears that welled up:
“Azadi.  Azadi from my upholders.”


Monday, March 28, 2016

Veer Savarkar and Amit Shah


“We want to tell him (Rahul Gandhi) that we are honoured to be called followers of Savarkar…he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British. He jumped into the sea, escaping from the clutches of British soldiers and swam for 10 km, and fought for Independence.”  Amit Shah thundered while addressing a farmer’s rally in a Surat village.   This is yet another instance of his party’s relentless efforts at rewriting the history of India. 

What kind of a person was this ‘Veer’ Savarkar in reality?

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was brought to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 1911 after his conviction for the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik district, who was "sympathetic towards Indian aspirations."  Within six months of his imprisonment, he submitted a petition for mercy to the British government in India.  In 1913, he submitted his second petition in which he wrote: "I am ready to serve the (British) Government in any capacity they like... . Where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?" [emphasis added]1

Savarkar even went to the extent of submitting himself totally to the British Empire.  "I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate... .This or any pledge, e.g., of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release - any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the State would be gladly accepted by me and my brother."2

Savarkar’s jumping into the sea, which Amit Shah mythifies in his Surat speech, was not when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.  It took place in March 1910 when Savarkar was arrested at London’s Victoria Terminal railway station as soon his train arrived there from Paris.  They sent him back to India by ship in order to prosecute him for his 1906 anti-government speech in Bombay. Next morning, Savarkar escaped through a porthole and swam ashore where he was arrested again. The reality is quite different from what Amit Shah wants us to believe.

Savarkar’s complicity in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is also proved beyond doubt.  In his crime report No.1, the main police investigating officer, Jimmy Nagarvala, stated that "Savarkar was at the back of the conspiracy and that he was feigning illness."3 Savarkar was not ‘veer’ enough to admit his role, however.  Rather, in a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, on 22 Feb 1948, he wrote: "Consequently, in order to disarm all suspicion ... I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the government may require in case I am released on that condition." The supplication was contemptuously rejected.4

In fact, tendering apologies and pleading pathetically for mercy was an integral part of Savarkar’s personality.  He indulged in those exercises in 1911, 1913, 1925, 1948 and 1950. 

For half a century after India’s Independence the Right wingers never owned up Savarkar.  It was only in 2000 that the BJP took him under its mantle, long after memories were buried and when distortions would be accepted as truths by the millennial generation. 

Savarkar “died a lonely man,” says Subhash Gatade, “abhorred especially by the thriving 'Parivar' then, which made special efforts to maintain distance from him in those days.”5

A lot of history is being rewritten these days by Amit Shah and his people.  It is the duty of Indians to pursue the truth.  Satyameva Jayate is our national motto, after all, and it comes from our ancient scriptures, Mundaka Upanishad.

Notes
1 & 2: Savarkar’s Mercy Petition, A. G. Noorani, Frontline.
3 & 4: Savarkar and Gandhi, A. G. Noorani, Frontline.
5: The Iconisation of Savarkar, Subhash Gatade, Countercurrents.


The Danger of BJP’s Doublespeak


One of the most common responses of the BJP to criticism is to cite examples of similar deviation by the Congress.  For example, tell them that communal disharmony is on the rise after the party came to power and they will quickly cite the riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination or other similar instances.  Tell them now that the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand just a day prior to the scheduled trust vote is a cynical subversion of democracy and they will point to the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi. 

The BJP came to power promising us DIFFERENCE.  It promised us DEVELOPMENT.  It gave us dreams about a country that will fly on the wings of science and technology.  It promised us cleanliness.  We dreamt about RS 15 lakh in the accounts of each one of us, the black money brought back from wherever that is stashed away.

While we dreamt, Vijay Mallya escaped with Rs 9000 crore from our banks!

Nothing has changed, in fact.  As Arun Shourie, a BJP man himself, said, the BJP is just the Congress plus the cow.   That is, we got one more enslaving icon for the nation that is already overcrowded with idols. 

Uttarakhand follows Arunachal Pradesh where the Congress govt was replaced with a BJP-backed one recently.  We are naturally left to suspect that similar processes may be repeated in many more states in future.  Educational institutions like universities are already being converted into right wing fortresses by appointing to the top positions people with Sangh parivar connections as well as by suppressing all forms of dissension.

Doublespeak has become an integral part of the present dispensation in Delhi.  There is a conspicuous gap between the real and the declared aims.  The hapless citizens are left with dreams while certain hidden agenda are overpowering their real lives with a marauding force. 

Describing the chief characteristic of doublespeak, Edward S. Herman, political economist and media analyst, wrote in his book, Beyond Hypocrisy, “What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.”

When the BJP tries to absolve itself by drawing parallels with the Congress, it forgets the simple fact that the Congress never had any fascist agenda.  The Congress was corrupt.  It helped its politicians mint money through fraudulence and chicanery.  It even made use of religious communities as vote banks.  But it never sought to establish any theocracy.  It never deceived itself with cultural hypocrisies.  It never believed in its own doublespeak. 

The Congress never made use of malicious propaganda.  It did not manufacture consent or create illusions, to use Noam Chomsky’s phrases.  It did not foster holy cows. 

Forging histories, manufacturing truths, suppressing dissent, imposing illusions on people... these make BJP a PARTY WITH A DIFFERENCE and what a pernicious difference it is!




Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fiddler on the Roof


The movie, Fiddler on the Roof, is 45 years old.  Winner of three academy awards, the movie tells the story of a Jewish family in Russia of the early 20th century.  The Tevye family is economically poor.  But Tevye is a god-fearing man.  He has a lot of questions to ask Yahweh but all in a childlike trust tinged with the adult’s irony.  He follows the rules and traditions of his orthodox religion as meticulously as he can.  When his daughters fall in love one by one against the tradition of their religion, Tevye is shocked initially but bows to the love that shines in the eyes of his daughters. 

Finally, the family has to leave the place like the other Jews who are all evacuated.  One of the many evacuations that the Jews faced throughout their history which goes back to the biblical Exodus.  The eponymous Fiddler on the Roof is a symbol of the precarious situation of the Jews.  Perched perilously on the sloping roof, the fiddler has to produce his music which is his duty on the earth while at the same time negotiate the fears and dangers that accompany his situation.  He is the symbol of the Jew of the pre-Israel days. 

The movie is a musical classic which can be enjoyed even today by anyone.  Every frame is a delight to watch.  Every dialogue warms the cockles of our hearts.  Like the finest art, it leaves us with haunting thoughts and emotions.  It evokes compassion in our hearts.  It refines our souls.

I’m presenting here just one song, one of my all-time favourites.  If I were a rich man: that’s the song. Tevye thinks that if he were a rich man, he could not only build a big house with many staircases including one that leads nowhere but “just for show,” but also have his wife in a happy mood strutting around like a peacock and screaming at her servants.  Important men in town would crowd around him calling him “Reb Tevye, Reb Tevye,”  seeking answers to their problems, and “it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong / When you’re rich they think you really know.”  He would be able to sit in the best part of the synagogue and discuss the scriptures with learned men, if he were a rich man.

Finally he asks Yahweh if it would have destroyed some great eternal plan of His had He made Tevye a really rich man.

Today is Easter.  Here, through this post, I’m celebrating the “resurrection” of Jesus, a Jew who tried to reform his religion without success.  Like Tevye, I have infinite questions to ask God if He would ever care to listen. 



Friday, March 25, 2016

The Blind Lady’s Descendants


Book Review

Title: The Blind Lady’s Descendants
Author: Anees Salim
Publisher: Penguin India 2015
Pages: 301
Price: Rs 399

A metaphorical blindness is part of most people’s lives.  We fail to see many things and hence live partial lives.  We make our lives as well as those of others miserable with our blindness.  Anees Salim’s novel which won the Raymond & Crossword award for fiction in 2014 explores the role played by blindness in the lives of a few individuals most of whom belong to the family of Hamsa and Asma.  The couple are not on talking terms for “eighteen years,” according to the mother.  When Amar, the youngest son and narrator of the novel, points out that he is only sixteen, Asma reduces it to fifteen and then to ten years when Amar refers to the child that was born a few years after him though it did not survive. 

Dark humour spills out of every page of the book.  For example:

How reckless Akmal was!  Sleeping with his mouth wide open right under a bunch of ripe jambus.  Suppose a wind ruffled the tree, a jambu from the bunch dropped straight into his mouth and choked him before he could sit up and say his final prayer?  Then Jasira’s marriage would have to be put off, by at least six months from the moment Akmal dropped dead.

The family has seen many a tragic event already.  After all, bad luck is an invisible offspring of the Hamsa-Asma couple.  One of the many tragedies is the suicide of the narrator’s uncle, Javi, the day the narrator was born.  Amar, the narrator, turns out to be a natural descendant of Javi sharing many characteristics with him including a trace of insanity.

The novel is the autobiography of Amar who has reached the age of 26, at which his predecessor committed suicide.  Amar is a half Muslim since he ran away when only half of his foreskin was sheared.  As he grows up he loses faith altogether and declares himself an atheist. 

The novel is about the usual conflicts faced by people: identity crisis, meaninglessness, fractured relationships, religious fundamentalism, etc. The blind lady of the title is Asma’s mother who is physically blind.  But most other characters in the novel are metaphorically blind: unable to see beneath the surfaces of existence.  The novelist succeeds in narrating the tale with ease and grace.  The dark humour is the ideal buffer for all the absurdity that underlies the lives of the characters, the absurdity of life itself. 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Stories

Fiction

Warning: FOR ADULTS ONLY


The beggar pulled him out of the rail track just in time.  As he fell on the side of the track, the train stormed past his ears like a bomb blast he had just missed. He stood up, brushed off the pain from some parts of his body, and blurted out to the beggar, “Fucker!”

The beggar who had just picked up his one-string violin laughed as if he were Bhishma faced with Shikhandi.  Then he placed his violin on his shoulder and started playing a violent tune.  Almost like the Fiddler on the Roof.   

“Why did you fuck my death?” he asked the beggar ignoring the enticement of his one-string music.

The beggar grinned through the darkness of his mane and said, “It’s not your time, boss.  Give me the money for my next drink and wait for the next train.”  He stretched out his hand.

“Fuck off!” he said.

“Cliché,” said the beggar.  “Cliché.”

“What?”

“You are bored, aren’t you?  Bored of clichéd life?”

He spat out another Fuck off and was about to walk away when the beggar said, “Why don’t you start fucking the fuckers?”

He turned back like Lot’s wife.  Temptations.  Temptations allure.  Sodom allures.  Life is Sodom.  

“When I was young the fuckers fucked Hritik Roshan.  But he fucked them back and made his life.”  The beggar was almost singing it.

He listened.

“Hritik Roshan had just become a star.  Kaho Na Pyar Hai.  The fuckers demanded money.”

He remembered.  The Bombay underworld ruled the Bollywood industry.  If you don’t pay them, you die.  Metaphorically, at least.

“Hritik refused.  The fuckers have their ethics.  They advised him.  Then they warned him.  Hritik was too good.  Too good, you fool, for this world.”

“Hmm.”

“The fuckers made a story.  Stories rule the world.  Do you know that?”

He did not hmm.  He was not interested.

“Every success is a story.  Bharat Mata is a story.  Kingdom of Heaven is a story.  You are a story.”

He mumbled, “Tragic story.”

“You are a fool, boss.  Only fools have tragic stories.  Tragic stories are written about fools by the real heroes.”

“What was the story they made about Hritik?”  He asked.

“They made a story in Nepal that Hritik Roshan hated the Nepalis.  That Hritik Roshan wanted to fuck the Nepalis.  There were so many Nepali prostitutes in Bombay in those days.”

“Oh?”

“And the Nepalis burned the theatres where Hritik’s movies were played.  Or the underworld paid them to burn the theatres.  And Hritik Roshan buckled, boss.  He paid what the underworld demanded.  The underworld is the real hero, boss.  That’s the story, boss.  The underworld makes the real stories, boss.”

The beggar raised his one-string violin to his shoulder and played the theme of Fiddler on the Roof.  Mad man!

Mad men create stories.

“And stories rule the world,” he mumbled to himself as he walked away.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Killing for Myths


Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker has shown that people can go to any length and expose themselves to any risk merely to prove that the myths they live by are actually true.  The Brussels bombing is the latest episode in man’s quest for converting myths into truths.

Myths are necessary for making life bearable.  How miserable would life be without the consolations offered by the pie that is awaiting us in the sky after death?  How can we survive without those gods at whose feet we can unload the burdens in our hearts?

As long as gods remain painkillers and shock absorbers, they are harmless.  But the problem is when their worshippers want to impose their painkillers and shock absorbers as the only entities of the kind on everybody in the world.  Christianity did this for a whole five centuries from about 1050 to 1550 CE in the name of crusades.  Did the world become any better place for all those killings and brutality and conversions and what not?

Today we have people belonging to other religions repeating that history.  Imposing their god(s) and canons on others.  They are very active in our own country (Bharat Mata) too.

Perhaps, all this mindless violence and cruelty have nothing to do with god(s) and truth(s).  Perhaps, it arises from frustration.  Frustration of all sorts.  For example, having been left behind by the flight of scientific and technological progress, by the accumulation of wealth by a few, by feeling of rootlessness, by sheer neglect... The reasons could be endless. 

Whatever the reasons, whether they arise from personal frustrations or from the need to impose one’s gods upon others and thus establish sovereignty over the others, religious militancy has done no good so far in human history.  When will our devout warriors of god(s) realise this?  Never, I’m sure.  Because religion has had little to do with realisations!  It’s all about myths.

PSAn Ode to Atheism

Atheism rises above creeds and puts Humanity upon one plane.
There can be no 'chosen people' in the Atheist philosophy.
There are no bended knees in Atheism;
No supplications, no prayers;
No sacrificial redemptions;
No 'divine' revelations;
No washing in the blood of the lamb;
No crusades, no massacres, no holy wars;
No heaven, no hell, no purgatory;
No silly rewards and no vindictive punishments;
No christs, and no saviors;
No devils, no ghosts and no gods.
                               
                                                                By Joseph Lewis


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Religion and other Games


Once I presented a copy of the book, Amen, by Sister Jesme to a couple who visited me.  A few days later I came to know that the husband had flung it out of the car as they were returning home.  “I won’t let such books in our home,” he said as he stopped the car near one of the many garbage heaps belonging to the Municipal Corporation.

Sister Jesme’s book is not a particularly outstanding work in any way.  It shows that the Catholic Church is as corrupt as any human institution is.  It elaborates on the sins and human weaknesses that exist in the religious congregation to which the nun (Sister Jesme) belonged until she left it in disgust as well as the realisation that it was meaningless to continue living a life of sheer hypocrisy.  I gifted it to the couple because the lady had shown some interest in it when she saw it on my book shelf and also because the gentleman was very closely associated with the Church and would not allow any criticism of the Church within his hearing.

The man was not even willing to see what was written in the book.  He could have disagreed with it, he could have criticised it, he could have questioned his own loyalty to the Church, he had numerous options open rather than fling it on a garbage heap.  But he chose to throw it away.  Such are most religious believers, I think. 

For most people, religious belief is blind.  The believers don’t want to open their eyes.  They know that they will see too many ugly truths if they open their eyes.  It is better not to see.  Not seeing is faith.  As someone said, “Faith is a blind leap in the dark.” 

Latest victims of religious games
The darkness is necessary.  It is in that darkness that the faith becomes really beneficial.  The gentleman above had got his job because of the help provided by his religion.  His social standing owed itself to the parish church where he was a kind of leader with some respectability.  In short, his monthly salary and his social stature both came from his religion, indirectly though.  Hence his life would be hollow without that religion.

For most people, life would similarly be hollow without their religion.  Ask today’s religious activists who go around killing people suspected of eating beef or for some other silly reason whether they know anything about the place occupied by the cow as well as its flesh in the history of their religion and you would realise that they know almost nothing about their religion.  Their faith is a blind leap in the dark.

The self-chosen blindness is necessary in religion when it is merely a source of livelihood and social respectability.  Today goons are gaining political respectability in the name of certain religious totems.  More often than not, religion and politics are games for those who cannot find their way in the light.  And, perhaps, the real thrill lies in eclipsing the light that others are enjoying.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

IS and RSS

Ghulam Nabi Azad did not really compare the terrorist outfit, Islamic State, with RSS.  He says he only mentioned the two in the same breath.  He was opposed to both.

Though the IS and RSS may share a few things in common, putting them on two sides of the same balance is preposterous.  Tavleen Singh, in her column in The Indian Express, elaborates on that preposterousness and then goes on to assert that she grew up despising RSS.  This is what she says:

I found their aggressive nationalism silly and their obsession with Hindu revivalism boring. I still do. I believe that reducing the vast wealth of Indian civilisation to a debate about beef is vandalism. Since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, we have seen far too many of his partymen exhibit their complete ignorance about Hindu civilisation by spreading hatred against those who eat beef and believing that they do this in the cause of reviving Hindu thought from Vedic times. Most of them have learned their ideas from RSS shakhas, so it should be clear that the RSS needs to change a lot more than its knickers

This is all, more or less, what I have been telling in my writings all through.  I’m happy to find someone who agrees with me or, being humble, someone with whom I agree.

I also don’t think that the RSS will stretch its ambition beyond the borders of Bharat Mata and seek to bring the whole world (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam) under the wide umbrella of its ancient culture.  The IS wants to bring the whole world under the Caliphate.  I fail to understand why anyone wants to bring anyone else under anything.  This is one thing I fail to understand about the RSS too.  Why does it want to bring India under the Hindutva umbrella?  Why can’t it let people find their own religious and cultural moorings?  Why does it insist on lending its roots to everybody in the country?  It is in this one regard, on the insistence of making everyone wear the same religio-cultural robes, that the RSS is being compared with IS.  Of course, we know, like Tavleen Singh, that the RSS has only grown up from knickers to trousers and has not post-graduated in the ideology as the IS has.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Education and Success


In all probability, most of the richest people in the world today were not exceptional academicians at school.  Most of the powerful political leaders might not have scored very high marks at school.  Conversely, the top scorers at school need not become highly successful in life. 

In short, academic brilliance particularly at school seems to have little to do with success in life if we associate success with conquering certain quanta of wealth or power (or both). 

More scandalising is the possibility that many of the best scholars at school did not achieve anything much in life by way of what is normally meant by success.  I don’t know if any detailed research has been done on this recently.  I know that psychologist Lewis Terman (1877-1956) carried out a very detailed research on a large number of highly gifted students and found out that a good many of the highly gifted students did not really make it big in life.  He realised that apart from high level of intelligence or academic performance, a lot of other factors such as hard work, luck, social contacts and other skills were involved in achieving success.

More recently, Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), vindicated Terman’s findings. 

Success in life is not much related to the academic achievements at school.  It depends on many other factors like the support you get from your family, your inheritance of certain advantages socially, politically, economically, and so on, sheer luck, your willingness to work hard, your attitudes, willingness to make compromises, readiness to pay bribes or flatter or whatever is required...

Then why do we still attach so much importance to the students’ performance in exams?  Why do high scores matter?

The answer is simple: the scores are given much importance in the various selection processes which are perceived as the stepping stones to success.  Change the selection processes and you will see a whole paradigm shift taking place in our schools.  For example, include certain practical sessions in the selection procedures to medical colleges.  Observe the candidates interact with patients in a hospital.  Make them go through situations which test the skills required of a good medical practitioner.  Stop giving undue importance to the scores obtained in written exams.  Instead, assess the skills and knowledge really related to the profession.

The whole academic process at school will undergo a sea change if we start making such changes in the assessment methods and techniques. 

Bookish knowledge alone matters little in the march toward success in life.  Then why do we give so much importance to such knowledge in our assessment systems?  This is the question raised by the Indispire Edition 109 #EducationSystem which inspired me to write the above paragraphs.

But I hasten to add that a good lot of bookish knowledge is essential at least in some professions.  Let it not be thought that anyone can make it big merely because of luck or support from others or even the aptitude.  Knowledge is the real power.  But there is much more that is needed to be successful. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Book of Fate


Book Review

Iran witnessed revolutions based on communism as well as Islam.  Like all revolutions, they had their share of bloodshed and frenzy, narrow perspectives and flatulence.  Revolutions make heroes of some and victims of many others.  Opportunists fish in the troubled waters and reap rich dividends.  In the end, nothing really changes for the majority for whom one form of oppression is replaced with another.

In The Book of Fate, Persian writer Parinoush Saniee tells us the story of both the revolutions that rocked Iran.  The story is narrated by Massoumeh who is a young school-going girl at the beginning of the novel.  She is 53 at the end.  The novel is essentially about her painful experiences in a country which has too many rules for women.  Girls are meant only for procreation and education is not required for that.  Girls should not reveal their teeth while laughing, nor can they laugh loud.  They are not even allowed an identity: their face has to be concealed behind the veil.  The father, then the husband, and then the sons – there’s always a man who will determine how the woman should live.  The novel is a scathing critique of the various forms of oppression that the women are made to undergo from childhood till death.

Massoumeh is not allowed to marry the man whom she loves.  Her brothers who claim to be very religious choose her husband.  Their original choice is a butcher with no sense of morality or respect for others.  Thanks to a more sensible neighbour, with whom one of the brothers of Massoumeh has an illicit affair, Massoumeh gets a better husband in the person of Hamid.  Hamid is a communist revolutionary, however, and has absolutely no sense of family obligations.  He thinks that a revolutionary should have no attachments to family members. 

While Hamid is blinded by ideology, Massoumeh’s brothers are blinded by religion.  Hamid will eventually become a hero for a brief period when Communists secure certain supremacy in the country.  But he will finally meet the fate that awaits revolutionaries in general.  One of the religious brothers of Massoumeh will succumb to drug addiction and another becomes an opportunist who will make his profits whether it is the Communists who are leading or the religious fundamentalists. 

“Every human being has the right to decide how to live his or her life.”  That’s the dominant theme of the novel.  But the novel shows how this right is denied to most individuals, especially the women in Iran, by religious leaders.  The novel also shows the hypocrisy of the religious leaders many of whom are really not motivated by religion.  Even if they are, they have little understanding of the religion. 

The novel is a moving tale which has its moments of dramatic heights and intellectual depths.  Towards the end it becomes slightly preachy and Massoumeh’s ‘lectures’ may remind us of the powerful sermons delivered by some of Ayn Rand’s characters.  Sample this:

People love creating heroes.  They make someone big so that they can hide behind them, so that he will speak for them, so that in case of danger he will be their shield, suffer their punishments and give them time to escape. 

Such rhetoric notwithstanding, the novel is a powerful tale which grips the reader’s attention right from page one to the last.  It is easy to read.  It forces us to take a different look at ideologies such as Communism and also at religion in its various avatars.  It makes us wonder why most human pursuits, ideological or religious, tend to be highly superficial in the final analysis.  It makes us wonder why simple goodness is condemned to become a victim in the world of ideologues and religionists. 

Sara Khalili’s translation is fairly good though there are places where the sentences sound awkward.  That’s not a serious flaw, however. 

The novel is published in India by Hachette.
Pages: 447
Price: Rs 399

The English translation was originally published in Great Britain in 2013

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Betrayer Within


Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran? I have just begun reading it. I am stuck on something. 

On the very first page, I find the words "that in the final analysis we are our own betrayers, playing Judas to our own Christ."

If and when you have sometime, can you please write something on it?

I received this email from a blogger friend yesterday.  My impulsive response was to say ‘No’ because I know the statement in the quote is true and, worse, I know that I have a Judas within me.  On a second thought, I decided to honour the trust placed in me by a good friend.

When I began my contemplation on the topic, the first thing that came to my mind was a story that appears in the opening pages of Richard Bach’s novel, Illusions.  There are some aquatic creatures that spend their entire life sticking to the bottom of the river.  They just cling.  Life is nothing but that clinging for them.  One day they spot a creature just like them floating on the water and moving on.  They think it’s a miracle.  They ask that creature to deliver them too.  The floating creature tells them that deliverance is their choice.  Leave the clinging and you are delivered.  But nobody was bold enough to leave the clinging.  And so they clung on.  And they made an epic about a Messiah who came along once upon a time to deliver them. 

My memory may have added personal tinges to the story.  But the message is that the Judas is within us just as much as the Christ is.  We are our own liberators.  We are our own enslavers.  It is a choice we make.  It is our choice to cling.  To cling to traditions, customs, culture, religion.  To cling to prejudices, envy, greed.  To cling to possessions or positions or whatever.   The clinging is the betrayer within us.

But aren’t we helpless sometimes?  Aren’t we forced by circumstances to cling?  The Judas within me is mostly a creation of external forces.  Is it? 

The external forces are often beyond my control.  I can only choose my responses to them.  My responses determine whether I’m following the Christ in me or the Judas. 

As Oscar Wilde said, we are all in the muck, but some of us see the stars.  Some of us choose to see the stars.  Seeing the stars and following them is the deliverance when the Judas encourages us to wallow in the muck. 

I need to make a personal clarification.  My writings often criticise certain people related to religion directly or indirectly.  It is not the work of any Judas.  I am fully conscious of what I’m doing.  I am following certain stars knowing well that I am also in the ineluctable muck.  I am not a fan of popular positive thinking which is actually the fast food of those who are fortunate enough to encounter fairly benign external forces.  I have struggled with extremely malicious external forces for the best part of my life.  So there is a cynic in me who is the real Judas.  But I also know well that the Christ is within me too. 

I have used the religious symbols only because of the mail which triggered this post.  I would rather use the word ‘betrayer’ for Judas and ‘redeemer’ for Christ.  Both the betrayer and the redeemer are within us.  Life is constant struggle between those two for many people like me. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hypocrisy on the Yamuna


The godman brought the world to the banks of the Yamuna and proved that India is a tolerant country.  He invited even Boutros Boutros Ghali who passed away a month ago and thus showed that India’s tolerance extends even to the world beyond.  The Prime Minister stood beside the godman and proclaimed that India had much “to offer to the world because of its cultural diversity.”


When the PM was declaring his tolerance to the whole world from the banks of the Yamuna, the Milli Gazette published an article by Pushp Sharma with the headline: We don’t recruit Muslims”: says Modi govt’s Ayush Ministry.  The journalist had received the information through an RTI filed by him. 

The godman’s Cultural Fest presided over by the Prime Minister was open to international diversity.  Is the country open to diversity within it?  If not, what was the Cultural Fest but a mere show, a gigantic exercise in hypocrisy? 

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was an ardent supporter of Mr Narendra Modi for years.  They help each other to further their own causes.  Many years ago, the godman had exonerated Mr Modi from his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.  In a recent blog, the godman even went to the extent of rewriting the history of the riots by declaring that “In December, 2001, a few months after Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, I received a phone call from Mehul, one of our coordinators in Ahmedabad. He told me that a reliable source had informed him of a riot being planned to create trouble for the new Modi government.”

Godmen perform miracles.  One of the miracles is the rewriting of unpleasant histories.  Mr Modi will need that miracle.  The Art of Living too will need Mr Modi for various purposes such as converting the Yamuna bed and banks to a global convocation.  

A few weeks prior to the Cultural Fest where the PM declared his openness towards all cultures, a delegation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was denied entry in India for the third time.  The Modi govt was afraid that the Commission would find evidences of infringement of minority rights in the country. The Commission explained that they wanted only to ascertain India's observance of international standards with respect to religious tolerance to which virtually all countries have signed up.  The Modi govt was not very tolerant of such international standards. 

Less than a month back, eight American senators and 26 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Mr Modi expressing "particular concern" over the treatment of India's Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. They specified certain explicit acts of intolerance being practised in Modi’s India such as the criminalisation of non-Hindu practices in Chhattisgarh, “vigilante violence” against Muslims in various states, and the frustration of the Sikhs in getting their religion an identity separate from Hinduism.

From the time Mr Modi became the Prime Minister, there have been umpteen instances of religious intolerance of all sorts in various parts of the country.  Most often, the Prime Minister chose silence over such matters.  Occasionally he broke that silence (which vice of his predecessor was ridiculed by him copiously with the rechristening of that person as Maunmohan) to ask some of the vituperative sadhus and sadhvis not to bring disgrace on the Party with their substandard vocabulary. 

The simple, plain truth is that the country’s very air is vitiated with communal mistrust and intolerance.  So the question naturally arises: what was Mr Modi trying to prove at the Yamuna Fest?


Monday, March 14, 2016

Pi Day

March 14 is Pi Day.  Those who have some familiarity with basic arithmetic will know that pi is a mathematical constant - a ratio, in fact - whose value is approximated to 3.14.  So 14/3 (or 3/14, as the Americans write it), today, is pi day.

Interestingly or coincidentally, it is also the birthday of Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest genius who ever lived. 

The New Yorker has published, among many illuminating articles, a very humorous questionnaire on the occasion: Diagnostic Exam: Do You Have Math Anxiety?  A sample question:

What is a hypotenuse? 
(a) A very graceful hypot. 
(b) An overweight chanteuse. 
(c) The  French word for profound boredom.
Mathematics is often assumed to be a scary monster.  Actually it can be sheer fun if we learn to exercise our logical faculty properly.  Most people don't want to think - that's the simple truth.  Mathematics calls for some abstract thinking also which is assumed to be boring or even scary.  Hence many give up maths.  In other words, they give up logical thinking.  And they run after frauds like godmen and miracle workers.  

There's so much irrationality in our world today in spite of all the progress that we are making  with the help of science and technology which are founded on mathematics.  We want the benefits of rational thinking.  We have no shame in accepting the contributions of rational thinkers when it suits us.  But when it comes to our petty notions about many things which are nothing more than superstitions, we cling tenaciously to inanities.  

That's why Pi Day is important.  We have to bring some basic maths into our lives.  Some simple rational thinking.  

A concluding question adapted from The New Yorker:

What do you do when you travel to a foreign country and need to figure out the currency?
(a) I ask, “How much is that in real money?”
(b) I ring up my godman's receptionist.
(c) I demand nationalism and seek to convert my country's currency as the international currency. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Happiness


Happiness and intelligence seldom go together, said Ernest Hemingway.  Malayalam poet, Akkitham (who will be turning 90 exactly a week from today), illustrated it with an example in one of his poems.  The little son joins the father on the latter’s morning walk.  On the roadside they see the body of a woman who was raped and killed in the night.  The father tells his little son,

Light is sorrow, my son,
Darkness is solace.

Was the Buddha a happy person?  Was Jesus?  The existential sorrow that haunted intelligent people like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus is reflected throughout their brilliant novels as well as non-fiction works.  Can Mahatma Gandhi be described as a happy person?

On the other hand, can we describe any of the above as essentially unhappy persons?



They were happy at a level that the mediocre people don’t ever achieve.  Wealth, luxury, possessions, power, entertainment, delicious food – the list of things that serve as sources of happiness for ordinary people may be quite endless.  None of these would have made any of the above people happy.

The song of the birds, the rhythm of the rain and the grace of the mountains would have provided quite a lot of happiness to the people mentioned above.  Yet their happiness did not come from them either.  Their happiness belonged to yet another level.

They were all pursuing the light that Akkitham spoke of.  That pursuit was the source of their happiness.  Yet the same pursuit would cause them sorrow too.  The Buddha would declare life as sorrow once his pursuit found its fruition.  Jesus would lament and ask his Father God to take away the his cup of grief.  Sartre’s pursuit would reveal to him the terrible responsibility that accompanied human freedom.  Freedom is a condemnation, he would discover – with the happiness of the enlightenment and the sorrow that underlies every enlightenment.  Camus would similarly be torn between the agonies and ecstasies of life’s absurdities. 

Today, happiness is an industry run by spiritual gurus who wear various garbs.  None of these gurus have actually experienced the agonies of the pursuit of happiness.  They have discovered it in exactly the very same things or places where the common man also discovers it: wealth, possessions... (see the list above).   These gurus are just ordinary people, just as ordinary as the tradesman.  The only difference is that tradesmen sell hardware while the gurus sell software.   And both laugh all the way to the bank. 

Light is sorrow, my son,
Darkness is solace.



 This post is inspired by Indispire Edition 108: #Happiness

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