Saturday, December 31, 2016

Post-truth and 2016


2016 is bidding adieu having gifted us ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year, thanks to the Oxford Dictionaries.  Is the concept new, however?  Haven’t emotions and personal beliefs been more influential in shaping our ‘truths’ than objective facts throughout history?  Otherwise, why did religions and their gods continue to wield such power over us perennially?  Nationalism, Jihadism, Trumpism, Modiism, and a whole range of isms would not have succeeded as they did if objective facts held sway over shaping of public opinions.

‘Post-truth’ is just a euphemism for falsehood, deception, chicanery and all the lies that have dominated politics and human affairs from time immemorial.  There’s nothing new about it except that it’s a new word.  Only the word is new, not the concept, not the implications.

Throughout history political leaders used various tricks to deceive their people.  We have words like Machiavellian and Goebbelsian which came from real people who used inhuman strategies for suppressing if not eliminating whole sections of people.  India has its own historical Chanakya.  They were all masters of post-truths. 


The electoral victory of Donald Trump and the triumphal march of Narendra Modi, along with Brexit and the imminent collapse of European Union as well as the ever-resounding missile attacks by god’s own warriors, indicate that 2017 is going to be hard for most people. 

In India, we will soon have two idols dedicated to the religion of post-truth, both of which will cost the nation more than Rs 3000 crore each (441,260,829 USD). Both Shivaji and B R Ambedkar, whose statues are being installed in very prominent places, were historical figures, no doubt.  But why these two and not any other?  One is a symbol of the Hindutva ideology which Mr Modi is trying to impose on the nation and the other is a palliative balm for the Dalits and the oppressed sections that will continue to suffer many atrocities as they always did.  The motive is the post-truth. 

In a country where thousands of people go to bed hungry each day, thousands of children suffer from malnutrition, thousands keep migrating to cities in search of jobs, thousands don’t have drinking water, thousands of farmers commit suicide  – in a country where people are still struggling to retain basic human dignity, statues costing thousands of crores of rupees are the post-truths.


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Friday, December 30, 2016

Let there be more evolution


Let alone acts of violence, every trace of evil is proof that mankind is still an unfinished product.  It is as if the evolution got stuck somewhere.  We have a highly evolved brain compared to the other animals.  But most human beings do not use the brain for promoting goodness, not even the welfare of our own species.  On the contrary, we compete with one another and are highly detrimental to our own species, to others as well as the planet. 

The amount of money, energy and resources employed in destructive activities such as war and terrorism is much more than what is devoted to constructive and mutually helpful purposes.  In the process we also inflict much damage on the planet which sustains us.  Which other species is so self-destructive?  Yet we claim to have a sophisticated brain.

Who is an evolved human being?

An intellectual understanding of life and the world which instils compassion towards other creatures should ideally be the first and foremost characteristic of an evolved human being.  Both are important: the intellect and the heart, reason and compassion.

The intellect enables us to understand the world properly.  If we were all equipped with the kind of intellect that Albert Einstein possessed, the world would be a paradise.  Well, almost.  We would understand the universe and its ways much better.  Greater understanding will lead to more compassion.  To profundity, rather.

In one of his short stories, Francois Mauriac said that God is able to tolerate human beings because he has a profound understanding.  Such profound understanding is the hallmark of an evolved human being.  Such understanding will bring about mutual cooperation instead of the present competition, love instead of hatred.

In simple words, the evolved human being will be one who is naturally good.  Freedom, for him/her, is the choice of the good and only the good.  Because he/she knows that the good is what is intellectually and morally right. 


PS. Written for Indispire:



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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Einstein and God


Recently I saw a Christian catechism book which described Albert Einstein as a firm believer in God.  Nothing is farther from the truth.

In his biography Einstein clearly states that his “deep religiousness” came to “an abrupt end” at the age of twelve when he realised that established authorities like the state and religions were deceiving people with “lies”.  As an adolescent Einstein developed a “mistrust of every kind of authority” because he could see through the falsehood that upheld the authorities. 

Yet Einstein was religious in the sense that he saw sanctity in the universe.  “I believe in Spinoza’s* God,” declared Einstein, “who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind.”  Answering a scientist who questioned Einstein’s reported religious faith, Einstein wrote, “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

He was awestruck by the marvel that the universe is.  That awe was his religion.  It was a humble acceptance of man’s own smallness before the miracle that the cosmos is.  “Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations,” he said.  Yes, he accepted the mysterious order in the universe.  But not a creator of that order.

There were occasions when Einstein spoke of himself as religious.  But his religion was not the kind of the ordinary mortals.  “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical,” he said.  Mysticism is the ability to “stand rapt in awe”.  Einstein was a mystic insofar as his religion was concerned. “To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the centre of true religiousness.  In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”

Religion has little to do with god(s).  It is about the experience of the awe which makes us humble and compassionate.  Instead of promoting worship of god(s), genuine religion will cultivate “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.”

If we understand Einstein’s views on god and religion and internalise them properly, we will not only be better human beings but also bring about the kingdom of heaven here on our planet itself.

* Read my story on Spinoza: The Accursed

PS. All quotes are from Einstein’s own writings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

For a Friend



Tom, the Catholic priest who is pleading for his life in this video, was captured by Islamic terrorists in March. I still remember the hug I received from him a little more than a year before the tragedy befell him.

We had met during an alumni gathering in Kochi. When the meeting was over and I was on my way home along with my wife, the latter made two remarks about Tom. "He looks like a saint," said my wife. I replied that he was different from most people. The saintliness that his face reflected was genuine.

 My wife's second remark was that the hug he gave me was genuine too. The hug was not a mere formality. "We were good friends," I said.

 Tom and I studied together for six years. In the first half of that period we were close to each other. Eventually his saintliness and my vanity couldn't go together. But we still remained good friends. At a distance. We respected each other. We loved each other too in spite of the individual differences. That ability to love and respect the other in spite of differences made Tom a great person.

 He became a Catholic priest while I was teaching in a school in Shillong. Later his missionary zeal took him to Yemen. His capture there by the terrorists shook me not a little. I may not agree with his philosophy of life and his missionary activities. But he has every right to follow his heart and serve the poor people in Yemen or wherever he likes. As a friend, I would like to see him return to normal and healthy life.


Tom - before his capture
The present government of India is not likely to take interest in the life of a Catholic priest. But I wonder why the Catholic Church, powerful as it is in its global reach, has not taken sufficient interest in the safety of one of its missionaries. The Catholic Church in Kerala, the state which Tom hails from, recently organised a massive movement against a Malayalam publication merely for publishing a work of art which allegedly hurt religious sentiments. I wonder why these religious sentiments get so easily hurt by a painting but remains untouched by real sufferings of real people. I wish religion was more humane. Including the religion of Tom's captors.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why live?

An average person is more likely to kill himself than be killed by terrorism, illness or accidents. 
  
Source

Life is pain, said the Buddha.  Why to live then?  That would be the most fundamental question if we accept the Buddha’s enlightened truth.  Philosophers like Albert Camus wrote treatises on why we should live in spite of the pain, absurdity, or sheer ridiculousness.  The treatises are individual responses to the question about the meaning of life. 

Each individual has to discover his/her own answer to the question, I think, unless one is satisfied with the readymade answers given by religions or such systems.  If suicide is the largest cause of death in the world, one implication is that there are too many individuals who are not able to find religious or similar readymade answers meaningful. 

One of the basic biological facts is that life tends to sustain itself in spite of all odds.  Plants and animals will keep struggling against heat and dust and all sorts of oppressive conditions in order to live.  Yes, to live.  Life is pain, the Buddha was right.  Life is a struggle, a constant fight against oppressive forces. 

The struggle is the meaning of life.  The struggle is the essence, Albert Camus showed us through his brilliant essay against suicide, The Myth of Sisyphus.  Life is the rock that Sisyphus carried uphill with an indefatigable spirit which rebelled against the god who gave him that life.

Rebellion was Sisyphus’ meaning of life which Camus accepted.  Control of desires which cause the pains of life was the Buddha’s answer.  Experimenting with truth was Mohandas Gandhi’s way.  Different people discover their own causes to live for and meanings to sustain themselves against suicidal tendencies.  “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” as Nietzsche put it famously.

The why is an individual choice which may be as commonplace as bringing up children and seeing them becoming successes in life or as esoteric as discovering formulas like E = mc2.

How do you know that you are somewhere on the right track?  Psychologist Erik Erikson has an interesting set of criteria for the different age groups to check the rightness of our progress.  An adolescent who knows what he wants to become and works towards that goal is on the right track, Erikson said.  The failure struggles with identity crisis.  The adult who has understood the meaning of love and is able to establish comfortable relationships with people who matter to him/her will not be buffeted by suicidal thoughts.  The failure in this age group (20 to 40) will experience isolation, loneliness and possibly depression.   Those in the next group of 40 to 65 years become very caring if they are on the right track.  The failure experiences stagnation, a feeling that he/she didn’t achieve anything much in life.  Beyond 65, the successful person is a wise person in Erikson’s view.  Wisdom enables a person to look back on life with a sense of satisfaction.  Otherwise life is accompanied with feelings of guilt about past or a sense of despair. 

That’s just a kind of checklist and nothing more.  Ultimately, we discover own meanings and purposes for life.  It is important to discover them.  The rising suicide rates indicate that much at least.



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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Mr Modi and Utopia


Speaking during a function in Raigad yesterday, Prime Minister Modi threatened the nation with more “difficult decisions.” 

From today's Times of India
A couple of days back, Steve Forbes, Editor-in Chief of Forbes magazine condemned Mr Modi’s demonetisation as immoral and theft of people’s property. 
A few days back, Wall Street Journal wrote that “Instead of factory openings or large new investments, the images that tell India’s current economic story include snaking lines outside banks, distressed workers migrating back to their villages, and tax raids on jewelers and officials caught with hoards of allegedly illicit cash.”

Today is Christmas, a festival that marks the birth of a man in whose name a major religion came to be founded.  Christianity has always upheld suffering as a virtue.  It has relished imposing more and more rules and regulations, restrictions and penalties on its people.  Its priests and other leaders love to threaten the faithful with ominous consequences if the teachings of the religion are not abided by religiously.  Listening to Mr Modi’s speeches these days, I’m reminded of the Christian preachers. 

In a way, Mr Modi is more Christian than the evangelical preachers.  While the latter sell suffering here on earth so that the believers can receive their reward in heaven, Mr Modi is selling suffering in order to create a utopia here in our country itself.  The heavenly reward is more credible than the earthly utopia. 

Mr Modi is trying to eradicate evil from the country.  He thinks it is possible to eradicate black money, corruption, greed, envy and a lot of other things which are integral parts of human nature itself.  Mr Modi is trying to become a Messiah, a god incarnate, who will clean the human nature of all evils – at least in Bharat.

Earlier when his obsession was confined to physical filth and garbage (Swachch Bharat, Clean Ganga, etc), most people must have thought something was going to happen since they were practical objectives.  Nothing happened, however.  Bharat has remained as filthy as ever.  So has the Ganga. 

A man who couldn’t even achieve very simple, practical goals is now going to clean up the Indian hearts and souls. 

We are going to face a tough future, it seems.  Nothing good may come of all this since greed is incurable and people will always find ways and means of hoarding money, black as well as white.  

In the meanwhile, we can entertain ourselves by boasting about the gargantuan projects such as the 190 metre statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea and the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat.  Each will cost the nation about Rs 3000 crore.  We shall continue to waste our time standing in queues before banks and ATMS trying to take out our own money.  What is that suffering compared to the glory that awaits our nation in the form of great monuments?  Suffering is a religious virtue which can create a utopia in India.  Let us embrace it even as Jesus embraced the cross.  And wait for the utopia to take shape.


Merry Christmas. 


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Friday, December 23, 2016

Alone in the Crowd


As English has become the language of the world, capitalism has become the world’s religion.  Wealth is the only real god.  Unlike the jealous Yahweh of the Bible whose very first commandment was “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have any other god besides me,” the god of capitalism says, “I am the only God who can buy up all other gods.”

Apart from a god (or many gods depending on their tolerance level), a religion requires certain norms and values by which people organise their lives.  Capitalism has its own system of ethics and morality.  Egotism and profiteering are the elementary lessons in the catechism of capitalism. 

Every child is taught that it is special.  It is brought up like a prince or princess.  Pampered by parents at home, the educational system at school, and the businesses and their advertisers in the society, the child grows up seeing itself as the centre of the universe.  The child grows up to be a monarch, the monarch of a little kingdom which is his private world, a small little world.  

Ensconced on his/her virtual throne, the monarch establishes virtual relationships through a smartphone with other monarchs.  It is the most sacred duty of every monarch to make conquests.  The only purpose of existence, reads the capitalist catechism, is to make profits.  At any cost.  You can sell anyone for that purpose.  Including parents.  Use other monarchs to make the conquests.  How you use them is your own affair – laissez-faire.  All is fair that brings in the fare.

Relationships are either diplomatic strategies or casual affairs.  The former rakes in the moolah while the latter panders to the body.  The body is divine, dictates one of the commandments in the capitalist catechism.  Pamper it with savoury foods, branded dresses, and all the luxuries possible including the one night stands or ten night affairs.

Once in a while visit some Guru’s convention at the makeshift pavilion built on the bank of a holy river and learn how to supersede the sanctity of the nature with a wealth of verbosity (and possibly some plastic smiles).  Make a video clip of one of the many jokes cracked by the Guru and send it instantly to all the friends on half a dozen social networks.

Networks matter a lot, says the catechism.  Your opportunities lie therein.  Watch out for the next prey.  Watch out for your own safety at the same time.  We are the prey and we are the predators.  While we are at the game, let us take a break and play by texting jokes and exchanging new age gospels.  We need the game in order to ward off loneliness.


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 149: #AloneInWorldOfTechnology



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Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Spirit of Christmas


Christmas, the festival of jingle bells, plastic pines, polymer stars, carols and donations, is round the corner.  As long as I lived in Delhi, the festival meant little more to me than a plastic Christmas tree and a plastic coated star.  Now that I live in a place that will resonate with carols for a few days, I’m tempted to ask this question: What does Christmas mean to me?

Jesus was an enlightened person like the Buddha was.  An evolved brain.  One of the few persons who are born once in a few centuries [Sambhavami yuge yuge?] with a mutated brain.

Normal human beings are descendants of the ape.  The ape continues to dominate our hearts though we have a slightly better brain which can do more things than the ape like learn the formula of (a+b)2.  The heart didn’t evolve much.  It carries all the savagery of the ape. 

Jesus, like the Buddha and many others, tried to civilise that heart.  This is what I love most about such people.

Take this story about Jesus.  It’s from the Bible [John 8] but retold in my own way. 

The religious leaders wanted to trap Jesus because they didn’t like his teachings which curtailed their powers over the people.  Jesus was redefining religion and its laws. Jesus was liberating people from absurd traditions and rituals.  Jesus was helping people to look within and discover god there, in their own hearts. 

So the leaders laid a trap.  They brought a woman caught in the act of adultery.  According to the Jewish law, an adulteress must be stoned to death.  Nothing happens to the adulterer, of course.  Religious laws are usually made by man.  It is Eve who ate the forbidden fruit first.  She led Adam to sin.  The woman is the incarnation of sin. 

There she stood, dragged and bedraggled, amid a mob of bloodthirsty men who carried stones with them for the evening’s entertainment.  She stood with her head bent down.  She knew that many of the men who were clamouring for her blood had kissed her ruby lips not so long ago. 

Jesus looked at the men.  The leaders hurled the question at him.  “What shall we do with this woman?”

If he let her go free, they would label him a law-breaker.  If he punished her... Well, could he do that?  Did he ever punish anyone really?  Except the religious leaders themselves who converted the synagogue into a market of money-changers and animal traders?  Punishing was not his way. 

Jesus was watching the men.  Looking into their eyes.  He knew that many of them had shared the bed with this woman not so long ago.

“The one among you,” said Jesus slowly, looking into the eyes with a penetrating gaze, “who has not broken any law so far,” he paused for a dramatic effect – he was good at it really, “let him hurl the first stone at her.”  He had pronounced the verdict.  He continued to stare into their eyes.  One after another. 

One after another the stones fell to the ground.  There were murmurings in the air. 

The religious leaders were the last to leave.  They had not carried stones; they carried knives in their hearts.

Jesus wished to clean their hearts.  All hearts.  “Man is not made for laws,” he declared boldly to a society which valued their laws more than anything else.  Jesus sought to liberate the human heart from the clutches of rusted laws.  “Love.”  That was his only law. 

That is the meaning of Christmas for me. 

Wish you a different Christmas this time.  If you like :)




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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sapiens - Book Review


Book Review

This is one of those rare books which challenge the reader’s perspectives again and again unabashedly.  Every chapter (there are 20 of them in all) wages a war with some of our pet beliefs and concepts.  Religious people who are particularly sensitive about their faith and religious sentiments will find this book highly disturbing.  The rational thinkers and those who are guided by the scientific temper will find their perspectives being reinforced.

The author is a historian by education and profession.  But the book is multidisciplinary drawing copiously on various subjects such as biology, psychology and anthropology.  Starting with the evolution of man from the ape, the history of mankind moves on through the myths and gods our ancestors created, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and so on, to “The End of Homo Sapiens.”

Man is a myth-making animal.  Myths have enormous powers.  Myths can bring millions of homo sapiens together and make them work towards common goals.  This is how religions succeed in getting a lot of things done (most of which may be silly by scientific standards). 

However, myths are not the prerogative of religions alone.  In fact, quite a lot of human actions are founded on myths.  Nationalism is a myth, for example.  It is founded on certain stories we make and convince ourselves with.  The nationalist believes that his country is superior to other countries and takes pride in that belief.  It is a belief, however, which will not stand up to objective analysis most of the times. 

Yuval Noah Harari
Harari goes on to show that quite a lot of things we hold sacred are mere myths.  But these myths are very powerful.  They are usually deeply entrenched in people’s psyche.  All large-scale human cooperation is based on myths, says Harari.  If you want to change the way people cooperate, then change their myths. 

The book goes on to question a lot of our myths.  The author knows very well that he can only present the scientifically objective facts before the reader.  Ultimately most homo sapiens stick to some myths.  Science is too boring to engage us outside the school or workplace.

The homo sapiens is a self-made god who has created supernatural gods for his own convenience.  “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”  That’s the question with which the book ends.  There is a lot of indictment of the human species before that question is thrust into the psyche of the reader.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who is mature enough to understand it.  We think we are a great species.  The book will show us what we really are.  Perhaps, it can make us feel humble.  More importantly, it can open our eyes to a lot of truths, vital truths.


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Modi, the Messiah


BJP has made a clean sweep of the Chandigarh municipal elections by winning 20 of the 26 seats.  Amit Shah has already declared the victory as the people’s approval of the demonetisation.  We should not disregard Shah’s declaration as the Hanuman’s natural devotion to his god.  In fact, BJP’s sweeping victory is an indication of things to come.  The party may end up winning many more elections in the coming months.  As many as seven states are going to assembly elections in 2017.

“An economic measure should be, and normally is, judged on the basis of how it benefits the people, and any measure that brings distress to the people is derided for that reason. What we find in the present case however is just the opposite: the more demonetization brings distress to the people, the more it is applauded for its wisdom and courage.”  Prof Prabhat Patnaik wrote recently in The Citizen.  [emphasis retained from the original]

There is nothing surprising about people accepting their distress voluntarily.  They may even ask for more suffering.  Provided there is a religious touch to it all.

Modi as the idol in a temple
in Gujarat last year
Mr Modi has carefully crafted an image for himself, an image which is that of a Messiah.  He is the Messiah in contemporary India for exterminating evil and upholding righteousness.  Millions of Indians see Mr Modi as the contemporary avatar of the eternal terminator of evil.  Once religion comes in, distress becomes necessary self-sacrifice, a sacred ritual.  You can’t get to the Paradise without accepting the self-sacrifice of jihad in Islam.  Christianity is explicit about the road to heaven being paved with thorns and pains.  Hindu pilgrimages aren’t devoid of suffering and sacrifices.

Sacrifice is accepted as a religious doctrine and necessity when Paradise is the goal.  That is why Indians have fallen in love with their distresses spawned by demonetisation.  That is also why Mr Modi is likely to remain a hero for many more years.

We should remember how an equation has been created between the suffering of the ordinary citizens with that of the soldiers at the border.  Yes, it’s a glorious war we are fighting.  That’s the message passed directly into the hearts of the people who are always willing to suffer anything provided there is a Messiah who assures them of the final victory.  And in this glorious war against a demoniac enemy, we have to embrace sacrifices such as standing in long queues before ATMs or enduring hunger for days.

When you transmogrify a people into an army of devotees fighting for a god, your victory is assured.  People love their gods and the gods' Messiahs. 


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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Money is the universal deity


“(W)hereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.” Yuval Noah Harari says that in his book Sapiens, which I have been quoting extensively of late.  The emphasis belongs to the original.

Religion asks us to believe in a god or many gods.  It may ask us to believe in a lot more things such as heaven and hell, or that a bath in a particular river will wash away all our sins, or that you can’t be part of the community unless you part with your foreskin, and so on.  Money demands a much simpler faith from us: that other people have faith in its value. 

Without that faith, money is as useless as the waste paper in your dustbin.  Remember what Prime Minister Modi said to the nation on Nov 8?  “From midnight today, all the five hundred and one thousand rupee notes with you will be worthless paper.”  Worthless paper, that’s what one speech from one particular individual made out of some twenty lakh crore rupees in India.  86% of the currency in a country which is as large as a continent became worthless paper overnight.

One of the many implications is that the currency notes we handle have no intrinsic value at all.  Their worth lies in the faith we have in them.    

PM Modi is apparently fighting black money (and terrorism as well) though the fight seems to be futile since all the “worthless” currency is finding its way back to banks.  Moreover, the new currency notes make it much easier for black money to flourish.  On the one hand, it takes much less space to stash away these new notes while, on the other hand, they are easier to print and hence to fake.  Of course, in all probability these are temporary notes to be declared invalid in another Prime Ministerial midnight tryst with destiny.

One simple truth is that the world can’t go on without money.  Another simple truth is that money is a more universal deity than the gods of all religions put together. 

Imagine this child getting paid in digital currency
in cashless India
Source
It is that universal deity, without which nobody can survive in today’s world, that the Prime Minister knocked out of people’s hands.  Ordinary people, that is.  The people living in the rural areas, in the remote mountains, in the dark alleys. The people who don’t have any access to digital technology and its wonders. 

There’s no sign of this problem being solved in the near future since the government won’t be able to make sufficient currency notes available.  Even the limited bundles of notes being printed end up in bulk at the doorsteps of corrupt traders and politicians.  Even the Prime Minister’s own partymen are getting caught with the new note bundles. 

Eradication of corruption is a utopian dream.  It’s impossible that a shrewd politician like Narendra Modi didn’t know that.  The truth may be that he wanted to punish a few people who belonged to opposition parties and were keeping crores of rupees of black money in the secret niches of their homes.  That’s fine.  It’s good politics too.  Hitting the enemy where it hurts the most is a Chankya tantra and Mr Modi is an expert at it.  What more can you steal from your enemy than his universal deity, the only universal deity?

What matters more, however, is that it is the ordinary people from the remote villages who really suffer because of the demonetisation.  The farmers, the daily wage workers, the petty traders, and many similar others are left high and dry being denied access to the only god that really matters in the survival game: money.





Monday, December 19, 2016

Demons of Conquest


Hi(story)

Hernan Cortes was proud of his conquest.  His ambition had taken him all the way from his country, Spain, across the rage of the oceans, to the Caribbean islands.  Along with his men, Cortes invaded each of the islands and established Spanish rule over them.  More significantly, he had exterminated the entire native Caribbean population in just about twenty years.  The Spaniards imported African slaves to fill the vacuum left by the extinction of the Caribbean people.  Slaves will not rebel, Cortes knew that.  Every bit of rebellion is wiped out by the time the slaves reach their destination from their homeland.  Long voyage and excruciating torture.  Homeland becomes an impossible dream.  A dead dream.  Dead dreams hang heavily in the memory like taunting disgraces.  They emasculate the best of men.  Then there is the physical pain.  Together they, the disgrace and the pain, kill the soul.  Then there’s only the body left.  Body without a soul is a slave.  Cortes was the master of slaves and slavery. 

Hernan Cortes marched proudly along with his men to the palace of the Aztec Emperor.  He had convinced the local people that he was an Ambassador of the Great King of Spain.  It was a lie, of course.  Conquests sail on waves of falsehood.  Cortes was leading an independent expedition of greedy adventurers.  The King of Spain would have asked “Cortes, who?” if he was told about this new Ambassador of his.  But the King would only be happy to know about the new colonies that he could take over.  The King’s greed is far more ravenous than the adventurers’.  Nothing surpasses the longings of political aspirations.

The natives escorted Cortes to the Palace holding up censers in which burnt fragrant incense.  In the vanity that is the essence of every conqueror, Cortes assumed that the incense was a mark of divine honour.  Incense was burned in thuribles in the churches of Spain during religious ceremonies. 

Little did Cortes know that the natives were warding off the foul smell that emanated from the bodies of their guests.

The Aztecs thought that they were being visited by the demons. Foul-smelling demons which carried fire-spitting weapons.

The demons gained entry into the Aztec Palace by offering friendship.  Once inside, the demons killed the Emperor’s bodyguards and took the Emperor hostage. 

A country is what its king is.  When the Emperor became a captive, the entire people became captive.

Demons flourish when the people are held captive.

Culture, cried the new master.  Culture with all its smells marched into the Aztec lands.  The Spanish King’s soldiers arrived.  Priests arrived.  New flags fluttered on posts.  A new god stepped out of the ship.

The Aztecs did not know that gods of the demons were more hungry than the demons themselves.  The Aztecs did not know that the demons and their gods had exterminated entire races of people in their neighbourhood.  Ignorance has to pay heavy prices.  The Aztecs paid them.




Sunday, December 18, 2016

Modi had a little lamb


Our ancient forefathers were nomadic foragers.  They went from place to place in search of food.  Animals which were not dangerous were hunted.  At some time in history, some of those foragers decided that they were tired of the constant chasing after food.  They chose to settle down and cultivate their own food.  Some animals were domesticated too.

Animals were not used to domestic life.  They were used to roaming freely without any master to boss over their movements except the laws of nature which demanded constant vigilance against predators.  Man was one of those predators.

But man was different from the other predators because he had a more evolved brain which told him that it was to his advantage to hunt the male sheep or the old ones, leaving the females to breed and also to provide milk.  But male sheep were also required for the breeding process since there was no genetic technology in those days.  Hence man resorted to selective killing of the males.  The aggressive males, those which raised the banner of protest to the human bosses, were the first to be killed in this new priority list.  The skinny females followed.  Even those who were too curious to venture out of the herd became the master’s food soon.  “With each passing generation, the sheep became fatter, more submissive and less curious,” says historian Yuval Noah Harari [Sapiens: A brief history of humankind].  “Voila!,” Harari concludes the hypothesis, “Mary had a little lamb and everywhere that Mary went  the lamb was sure to go.”

This happened some 12,000 years ago.  Today’s sheep will follow the shepherd blindly even to the slaughter house. Domestication had brought about a genetic mutation.

Great rulers always wanted their subjects to be like the sheep.  Unquestioning obedience is what every dictator loves.  Thousands and thousands of rebels have been killed in the past by various rulers in different countries. 

Shobhaa De writes in today’s Times of India that nobody is allowed to discuss demonetisation openly.  “Lips are sealed in the Capital,” the article quotes a politician.  “People have been warned to keep quiet.  Some have received instructions in writing.  It is as if a sword hangs over the head of anybody who dares to criticise the move.”

If we look at the comments that appear below the articles critical of Modi, published especially in national dailies and journals, we may be forced to assume that there is a group of people who are paid to lambast anyone who criticises the Prime Minister.  After all, no government in India has spent as much money on propaganda as the present one at the Centre.  Who knows how much money is spent unofficially on propaganda?  Who knows how many people receive threats of varied sorts?

These may be dismissed as assumptions.  Let that be.  What about the effect of demonetisation itself?  Aren’t people being domesticated like the sheep?  When you have no money to buy food for your children, medicine for your parents, pay school fees, and so on, you cease to think of anything else.  You are forced to focus on just the basic necessities and think of nothing else.  Is that a new way of domesticating people?

I’m just thinking aloud.  I love the rhyme between Mary and Modi.


Indian Bloggers

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rahul Gandhi’s Earthquake


Rahul Gandhi regaled the nation with the threat of an earthquake-like assault on PM Modi.  Far from an earthquake, there was not even a wind that could stir the slenderest willow stem.  That’s one of the deadliest tragedies the country is facing today: no opposition worth the name.   

In Kerala where I now live there is a species of birds whose Malayalam name translates as ‘Bum-shaking bird’.  This little bird’s bum keeps on shaking whenever it alights from flight.  The typical Malayali humour has it that the Bum-shaker thinks that there is an earthquake because it shakes its tail.  Rahul Gandhi has become the Bum-shaker of contemporary Indian politics.

It's time Rahul learnt that his grandmother and her present
successor share too many personality traits
One wonders why Rahul Gandhi issued the threat of exposing no smaller a figure than the Prime Minister of the country only to back out leaving the entire nation baffled.  Mr Gandhi owes an explanation to the nation on this matter.  Why did he meet the Prime Minister after issuing the threat?  Why did he bluff the nation with such a threat?  Is there any clandestine understanding between him and the Prime Minister?

There’s something called Game Theory in higher mathematics.  It analyses the strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants.  The theory explains how in multi-player systems, views and behaviour patterns that harm all players manage to take root and spread.   

India is currently passing through a phase in which everyone seems to be becoming a loser.  The dictator in Mr Modi along with his co-players such as the Chief Justice and power heads like Amit Shah is converting the entire country into a gigantic puppet show.  There seems to be no sign of any winners in this show.  People like Rahul Gandhi who, being in the Opposition, should be playing a responsible role to put the nation back on the healthy track  of democracy have become comic Bum-shakers.  It’s a pathetic situation indeed.


Indian Bloggers

Friday, December 16, 2016

Our real Power


One of the many quotes that has refused to fade from my memory is Thomas Gray’s couplet in his classical poem, Elegy written in a country churchyard, which I studied decades ago. 

            Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
            And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

When the lines dug their roots into the limbic system of my being even before I had thought about my career, little did I realise that it was going to be an oracle in my life.  

I believe each one of us is a centre of power.  Our individuality, our uniqueness, our very identity is that power.  Given the appropriate ambience, that power will unfold and spread a beautiful fragrance.  Deprived of the ambience, it may droop and drop into dust having achieved little more than existing vacuously.

Is the existence of the flower in the desert, “unseen”, a mere “waste”?  That’s an interesting question which touches the realms of metaphysics.  Does anything even exist unless perceived by someone?  Unless fondled by someone?  The flower in the desert is born, lives a day or two or even more, and then withers and dies.  It just disappears.  Has it existed?  How do you know that it has? 

The flower has left no mark on anyone’s psyche.  That’s how most people vanish from the planet, having left nothing to be remembered by.  Like the simple country folk in Gray’s churchyard. 

Yet each one of us is a unique creature that has the potential to leave memorable imprints somewhere.  Most of us are debilitated by our own environment, mostly the people that populate the environment. 

When I realised like Jean-Paul Sartre that “hell is other people” I woke up to an epiphany, to a special self-discovery.  I saw the real faces behind masks.  Suddenly godmen metamorphosed into gadflies.  Many religious people who tried to reform or redeem my soul shed their masks and revealed blood-dripping grins. 

There are the innocuous people drifting on dusty lanes outside paradises reserved for the shrewd and the privileged.  I always belonged to those lanes.  The moment of that realisation was my deliverance. 


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 148: #SelfDiscovery



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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ramdev and Fraudulence


An Uttarakhand court has fined Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Rs 11 lakh for fraudulence.  In 2012 the District Food Safety Department had found that many food items such as mustard oil, salt, pineapple jam and honey sold by Patanjali failed quality tests.  In fact, many of these items are not even produced by Ramdev’s Ayurvedic units; they are produced by ordinary commercial enterprises and then given Patanjali labels.  Such is the Baba’s fraudulence. 

There are scores of legal cases filed against the godman and his so-called Ayurvedic industry.   The Baba is guilty of manifold crimes ranging from misleading people to evading taxes.  In 2012, when the godman was asked to pay up Rs 120 crore as penalty for various offences, Digvijay Singh remarked, ““I have seen many frauds in my life but Baba Ramdev takes the cake. He may be occupying more space in media now but I do not visualise Ramdev making an impact on our society for long.  Such people do not last long in public life.”

Mr Singh was right about the fraudulence part but wrong about the durability of that fraudulence.  Today Ramdev’s is an industry that can give the Ambanis and Adanis a run for their money. 

However, the product reviews at Amazon and Flipkart show that consumers are very unhappy with the Patanjali products.  The honey sold by the godman, for example, is sarcastically described as “Sugar which is made from pure honey” by a buyer.

Source: NDTV
While he was part of the India Against Corruption movement in Delhi a few years ago, Ramdev escaped police arrest by wearing a woman’s dress.  He was caught in the act, however.  Otherwise, he would have claimed a miraculous escape and added a whole new chapter of divinity to his biography.  Such is the fraudulence that guides the man’s soul. 

“Baba Ramdev is a fraud and he is not yet arrested because he has support from BJP. Baba Ramdev is using the patriotic feelings of Indians and selling his cheap quality and harmful products. Beware! before you buy any Patanjali product thinking that its natural.”  That is one of the many warnings you will come across against the godman in the ocean of the internet. 

India’s real tragedy is having such frauds as our heroes.  


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