Saturday, April 30, 2016

Moralists


One of the fifteen persons facing corruption charges related to coal mining in Jharkhand is a young man who displayed his nationalism and idealism by wearing the Indian national flag on his sleeves.  He took to the Supreme Court his right to display his patriotism by flying the national flag in places he thought appropriate. His patriotism won him a seat in the Parliament too. 

Good old humour
Superior to New Morality
His uncle is a great moralist apart from being an industrialist.  This great uncle recently handed over his school in Delhi to a godman because of reasons related to morality.  A few years earlier the biography of this great uncle was written by his daughter in which the uncle was quoted raising charges of immorality on the staff of the school in question.  The uncle is renowned for enforcing morality – his version of it, of course – using methods which are not often moral by conventional standards.

The school was eventually shut down by the godman.  Interestingly, the godman’s cult was in news for grabbing land belonging to the forest department.

The fifteen acres on which the school stood is today wasteland used as parking space for the VIPs who visit the godman who preaches morality to devotees. 


These are common things in India.  Nothing new.  But I’m amused by the morality of it all.   


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Friday, April 29, 2016

Matching Heartbeats


“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature,” declared Joseph Campbell, illustrious mythologist.  Myths, rituals, and prayers help in making our heartbeats match the beat of the universe. 

It’s about the harmony between oneself and the world outside.  It’s about discovering the meaning of that world in  spite of its apparent harshness, absurdity, and terror.  It’s about discovering the harmony between the self and the universe.

Literature has helped me much in the process of discovering that harmony.  Any good work of literature makes me probe the defences I have erected against painful truths about me as well as the world outside me.  Good literature chips away those defences.  Truth is revealed through a alchemical process.  Good literature also has the potential to heal the ruptures caused by the chipping away of the facile inner illusions and self-delusions.  Good literature takes the reader beyond his “intellectual games and ego-preserving strategies,” to use Rollo May’s phrase.

Source: Here
What literature does for me, religion may do for many others.  That’s why I don’t question people’s faith.  Religious rituals, superstitious as they appear to a rationalist, have many psychological functions to fulfil. The sacred thread given by the priest at the temple and attached to the bike may not have any power to save the rider from accidents as far as science and logic are concerned.  But the faith of the rider in that piece of string has magical powers.  Magic lies in the heart of the believer.  Magic lies in his faith.

I am unable to accept religion and its rituals simply because they don’t resonate with my heartbeat.  In fact, my heartbeat goes berserk when I’m faced with religion most of the time.  I endure the agony of dissonant beats because of circumstances.  I’m a hypocrite to the extent I endure that agony.  I pretend to the society around me that I’m religious so that I don’t hurt their sentiments.

I wish the religious people possessed the same magnanimity.  The magnanimity to respect other people’s beliefs or lack of them, other people’s practices however stupid they may appear to an observer.  The problem with religion is the lack of that magnanimity among believers.

That is because, I think, for most people religion stops at being that magical thread on the bike or some such miraculous symbol and nothing deeper, nothing that has touched the core of their hearts making the beats resonate with those of the universe.


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 115 #rituals which asked the question: “We Indians give too much importance to rituals...visiting a temple on a particular day , fasting for religious reasons...are these relevant in this age ? or they are just a solace to fight our fears and insecurities ?” [Maya Varde]


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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cowardice and Conformity


Rollo May, psychologist, thought of conformity as one of the greatest vices of man.  “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity,” he asserted repeatedly.  You are not fully alive, not even fully human, unless at some point of time you felt that the world around you is wrong and you wanted to scream at it, “This is me and the world be damned.”  Isn’t that what Socrates did?  Isn’t that what Jesus did?

People love conformity.  It makes life much easier.  It is easy to swim with the current, to move with the herd, to be a faceless shape in the crowd.  It is not just easy, it is beneficial too.  Trophies belong to those who abide by the rules of the game.  Pain, on the other hand, is the essential companion of the one who chooses to stand out.

No one becomes fully human painlessly, Rollo May quoted Dostoevsky.  Pain is what you undergo necessarily when you choose to be what you are rather than what the herd wants you to be. 

But why should anyone choose pain?  No, you are not choosing pain.  It chooses you, in fact, if you are on the road to inner freedom.  If you want to live your life as a subject rather than as an object.  If you want to be your own master and not a slave of the systems that stultify your very soul. 

You don’t seek freedom unless you are a rebel.  Civilisation begins with a rebellion.  Conformity is savagery.  Mass murders have been committed by those who followed leaders blindly.

The rebel, the non-conformist, is a truth-seeker.  And truth sets you free.  Though painfully.  The rebel seeks new frontiers of freedom.  “He is drawn to the unquiet minds and spirits, for he shares their everlasting inability to accept stultifying control.”  Personal integrity matters more than anything else for the rebel. 

The real tragedy of the rebel is not the pain he has to endure endlessly but that he will be made a god after his death.  He or his symbols will be used to create thorough conformists.


PS. The above post is inspired by a random reading of Rollo May.  May was not really advocating rebellion.  One has to go beyond rebellion and achieve creativity if one is to be really successful in life.  (Or remain a mediocre conformist who adds more and more to the pollution in the world.) I wrote this, however, seeing the tragic death of rebellion altogether.  Conformity has become a serious vice in our world, I think. Too much obsequiousness!


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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Game of Changes


One of the many paradoxes of human life is that people always tell you that the best way for changing the world is to change yourself.  They want you to change yourself.  They won’t ever change themselves.  Moreover, they will meddle with your life so much that you will have to change yourself in some ways at least: otherwise they won’t let you survive.

When I changed myself using a software
Actually, it’s not that people don’t want you to survive.  They are not really bothered about you at all.  They are bothered about themselves.  You are just a stumbling block in their way.  So they want you to change: move yourself from their way so that they can get on. 

Philosopher-writer Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “Hell is other people.”  Our freedom is curtailed by other people, their demands.  Freedom is all about making choices.  Can I make choices without giving due regard to other people, their likes and dislikes, demands and proclivities...? 

Their likes and dislikes and so on are  the restrictions on my freedom. I don’t like those restrictions, obviously. The world becomes a less happy place for me, a sort of hell.  Hence I exhort the other people, “If you want to change the world (which you are converting into a hell for me), change yourself.”  Change your likes and dislikes so that they don’t impinge on my likes and dislikes so much.

It’s a nice game, in fact: the game of changes.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Blogging and Narcissism


Indispire edition 114 #IAmABlogger inspires the narcissist in me.  Why do I blog?  To feed endless hunger of the narcissist in me, I suppose.  Like Narcissus gazing neurotically at his own image in the water, I decided to gaze into the eyes of my enduring benefactor, Reverend Tormentoro, and extract his view on why I blog.

Narcissus by Caravaggio, gazing at his own reflection.
Source: Wikipedia
“You display all the signs of NPD as listed by the DSM,” he said.  NPD elaborates as Narcissistic Personality Disorder for those who are not initiated.  And DSM is the Bible of psychiatrists: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

Can anyone be a serious writer unless he/she considers him-/herself important to some degree?  I did not voice my question.  No one dares to question the Rev.  Not if you know him personally.

“You still look for appreciation from your readers,” explained the Rev.  “You want them to write appreciative comments.  Thank your stars that these days no one dares to write negative comments since the whole virtual world is founded on the basic premise of mutual back-scratching.  Otherwise you would have run away from blogging long ago.  Your very identity is determined by others’ appreciation.  Symptom number 1 of the neurotic narcissist.”

I pulled out my pen and looked for a scrap of paper to jot down notes.  Sin #1: Seeking Appreciation.

“No,” the Rev made a dismissive gesture that bordered on contempt.  Have you ever been to shrinks?  If yes, you would have noticed the tremendous effort they make to conceal their contempt for you, for the whole of humanity.

“Narcissists never forget anything related to their ego, positive or negative, especially the latter,” he condescended to explain. 

“That’s why good writers don’t need notebooks,” I blurted out.  I don’t keep a notebook, you see.

He stared at me as if who asked for my view.

“Having made their personal life a hell with the constant need for others’ approval, the narcissists go out to make others’ lives miserable with their insensitivity,” the Rev went on.  “Symptom number 2 according to the DSM.”

“My sins, my sins, my most grievous sins,” I went into the confessional mode which usually made the Rev very happy.

“Wait,” he frowned.  “I’ve just begun.  The Narcissist thinks that he is entitled to all honours.  You are a teacher and you think you deserve the Best Teacher’s Award.  You are a blogger and nothing would deter you from imagining yourself bagging the Best Blogger Award from Indiblogger.”

The Rev went on.  I began to understand the glorious sinfulness that provokes all writing.  The most grievous sin of vainglory.  Insensitive, pathological, neurotic, prejudiced, jealous, lustful, most sinful... attention-seeker.  That’s what I am.  According to the Rev.

Why do I blog?  I returned to the question at hand.  And the answer is what I have written above. 


PS.  “A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”  Oscar Wilde.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Shakespeare and Betrayal




Google celebrated the genius of Shakespeare on his death anniversary (23 April) with a doodle.  Shakespeare deserves commemorations and celebrations.  What has fascinated me the most is the theme of betrayal in Shakespeare.  Our own experiences determine our favourite themes. 

“To be or not to be” is a question that rose from the gut of the wavering prince of Denmark whose trust in mankind was betrayed by none other than his mother.  There was poison in that mother’s heart.  When she smiled serpents writhed in their mating pits.  “Die, die,” hissed the serpents to the wavering intellectual.  Death is the noblest consummation in the world of betrayals.  If your mother betrays you, if she betrays her husband your father, what more is left in the world to be trusted?  How many heartaches should we suffer before we can shuffle off our mortal coil?  How many thousand natural shocks is our flesh heir to?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet asked those and umpteen other questions.  In those days.  Before the godmen’s women came with their poisonous smiles and marauding bulldozers. 

I began with Hamlet simply because the other day I stumbled upon a website which provoked me to play a game named ‘Which Shakespearean character are you?’ and Hamlet was my lot.  Okay.  To be or not to be is a question that only my death will answer.  Betrayals are nothing new to me or Shakespeare.

Wasn’t Julius Caesar stabbed again and again? By his most trusted people?  Was there ever a more agonised cry than “You too Brutus!”  in the whole cosmos of literature?  The cry of a man betrayed by his trusted friend.  Stabbed in the back.  For the sake of righteousness!  What is right, what is wrong, except in your thinking?  Hamlet would have asked Brutus. 

Antony loved Cleopatra with his whole heart.  With his whole dick, corrects Hamlet standing in the graveyard holding up Yorick’s skull.  If a man goes into the water and drowns himself, he’s the one doing it, like it or not.  But if the water comes to him and drowns him, then he doesn’t drown himself.  Therefore, he who is innocent of his own death does not shorten his own life.  That’s Hamlet’s logic [Act 5, Scene 1 – paraphrased in modern English].  Did Antony drown himself or did Cleopatra’s variegated Nile swallow him?  What is right, what is wrong, except in your thinking?  Hamlet might ask.  Yet betrayal was the cause of the deaths.  Both of Antony and his queen of lust.  Betrayal is a denial of what holds the cosmos together.  Betrayal is the negation of the gravitational force between you and me. 

Lady Macbeth will go and wash her hands again and again.  Gallons of perfumes brought from Arabia will not sweeten her hands.  She betrayed human trust.  She betrayed humanity.  With the confidence of today’s bulldozer.  “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”  She didn’t listen to the warnings.  And she is the only major character in Shakespearean tragedy to make a last appearance denied the dignity of verse.  Such was her greed.  Such was her lust for power.  Such was her betrayal of humanity.

The genius of Shakespeare bid farewell to the world’s stage on a positive note, however.  His last play, Tempest, is also about betrayal but about redemption too.  About the brave new world of love that the young protagonists had supposedly discovered. 

Supposedly.



Friday, April 22, 2016

The Dark Side of Development


The more notorious a criminal you are, the more respected you are in Tihar, says Kobad Ghandy in his Indian Express column.  The petty thieves and other little criminals vie with one another to join the notorious ones.  Your very survival, let alone success, depends on how close you are to the great guns.  Virtue will undo you.  Principles will turn into knots round your neck. 

Kobad Ghandy knows what he is speaking about.  He has spent seven years in Tihar.  Seven years in Tihar is enough to dehumanise anyone, writes Ghandy.

Is this true only of Tihar?  Isn’t it true for the entire country?  Where do you find virtue and principles in the public life of the country?  Criminals and murderers occupy eminent seats in the parliament and state assemblies.  Mafia dons and land grabbers masquerade as godmen.  The poor become poorer and end their lives on knots that descend in various shapes from above. 

The rich are given more and more.  What little the poor have is taken away from them.  The forests of the Adivasis are snatched and given generously to the rich miners and real estate developers who hobnob with the political leaders.  The whole country is being taken for a ride in the name of development. 

Kerala is one of the states going to elections soon.  The total debts of the state amount to Rs 135,440.4 crore during the UDF regime according to the Legislative Assembly Reports published by Malayala Manorama on 10 Feb 2016.   If we assume that an average family in Kerala has four members, then the debt of every family in Kerala is Rs. 159,340.  Many farmers in the country committed suicide because of an amount smaller than that.  Should the people of Kerala start committing suicide because of the developmental projects on which the State government spent huge amounts of money?  [e.g. Adani got thousands of crores of rupees from both the State and the Central governments for the Vizhinjam Transit Harbour.]

Source
Development is a mantra that has been chanted for a couple of years in the country.  Is the country being converted into another Tihar jail while it is pursuing development?  The question may sound farfetched.  But if we open our eyes a little more and look beyond the miasma of developmental illusion that has enveloped us, the question will find its concrete reflection in some very familiar images: the potbelly of the politician who meets you once every five years begging for your vote, the squint in the eye of the yogi who teaches you yoga and culture on a popular TV channel, the facelessness of the industrialist whose sky-high edifices stymie your very shadow...


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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Incomplete Minds


Delivering a Martin Luther King Jr Memorial lecture, actor Kamal Haasan said that “incomplete minds that somehow manage to reach the seat of power” create inequality.  He went on to say that enlightened minds are with the poor. 

Power is something that attracts only “incomplete minds,” generally.  Power is one way of completing oneself, filling up the blanks within.  Why don’t we find scientists, philosophers (writers), artists and other such people in politics running after power?  Probably, their minds are not so “incomplete.”  Or they find better means of filling the blanks within: by inventing something new, thinking new ideas or creating works of art.  Those who are incapable of such creative contributions hanker after power.  Boss over others and prove your worth!

Imposing oneself on others is precisely what’s wrong with these incomplete minds.  We find them imposing their ideas, religion, culture, food habits, dress, anything and everything on others.

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley carried out substantial research into the nature of power.  Power corrupts necessarily: that was one of his discoveries.  (Nothing new in it, of course, except that he proved it with research.)  Even the good people, once they reach the top of the ladder, morph into a very different kind of beast.  “It’s an incredibly consistent effect,” Mr Keltner says. “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools.”

Mr Keltner went to the extent of comparing the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

Power makes people less sympathetic to others.  This is a psychologically proven fact.  People in power rely more on certain stereotypes and generalisations while judging people. 

Power makes us less human, in short.  Power makes people quasi-neurotics.  Look around and you will find umpteen examples.  Examples of incomplete minds that try to fill in their internal vacuum with hate speeches and divisive attitudes based on stereotypes and generalisations.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Waves in the sky


Book Review

Author:  Rakhi Jayashankar
Publisher: Cyberwit.net
Pages: 215

Waves in the sky narrates the story of six girls who studied together in the same school and were popularly known as the Canaries.  CANARY is an acronym for Charu, Ananya, Neha, Avantika, Raihana and Yami, the six girls whose story unfolds in the novel.  The girls grow up and go to different colleges and also learn about some betrayals that had occurred within the group when they were at school.  Not all friendships are genuine.  People have various motives for being part of a group and some of the motives may lead one to betray the group or some members of the group for one’s own personal interests. 

Life is full of incidents that are born of betrayals by friends as well as relatives.  The novel explores some such betrayals or even plain murders.  Some of the murders can shock the male readers.  Are women capable of such cruelty?  Can a mother kill her own offspring?

The back cover blurb classifies the book as “Fiction: Contemporary Women.”  Written by a woman, the novel explores the psyche of some female characters though not in great depth.  The novel can also be classified as mystery or thriller.  Thrillers don’t explore the psyche.  They tell a gripping tale keeping the suspense alive throughout. 

The problem, however, is that Waves in the sky oscillates between the traditional literary narrative and popular thriller.  So it may fail to satisfy both kind of readers.  It fails to present well-rounded characters.  On the other hand, the mystery is not masterfully controlled.  Yet the novelist succeeds in telling a story that can keep the reader engaged with unflagging interest till the end.  Rakhi Jayashankar is a good story-teller.

A little more careful editing would have been desirable.  There are quite a few unpleasant phrases or sentences.  “Death rights” instead of “death rites” and “umpteen number of times” instead of “umpteen times” are examples. 

In spite of the grammatical and semantic drawbacks, the novel is eminently readable and highly fascinating because the author has indeed a good story to tell.  It presents the real life in a very realistic narrative.  It is light and pleasant reading.

Buy the book from:

Read reviews at Goodreads.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Zorba’s Wisdom


Happiness is as simple as “a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea.”  The Buddha is not required for arriving at enlightenment.  In fact, the kind of enlightenment brought by the Buddha can be anti-life.  The Buddha can be a demon within.  

Zorba is the antithesis of the Buddha.  Zorba is the protagonist of Nikos Kazantzakis’s classical novel, Zorba the Greek.  The narrator of the novel is a young intellectual who has decided to bid goodbye to books for a while and take up active life.  He wants to be with people.  Zorba, an elderly man with boundless and unconstrained passion for life, becomes the narrator’s companion.  No, not just companion but his Buddha.

A scene from the movie Zorba the Greek
However, the kind of enlightenment that Zorba brings differs totally from what the Buddha had brought.  If life was “sorrow” for the Buddha, it is “trouble” for Zorba.  The highest point you can arrive at in life is not knowledge or virtue or goodness or victory but Sacred Awe.  The intellect does not take us to that Awe.  You need some madness for that, says Zorba.  Life is not to be understood intellectually; it is to be lived passionately. 

Zorba the Greek does not have a traditional plot that grows to a climax.  It is a book of meditation rather than a novel.  You need to put it down again and again in order to contemplate the wisdom that each page contains.

“No. I don't believe in anything,” Zorba tells the narrator. “How many times must I tell you that? I don't believe in anything or anyone; only in Zorba. Not because Zorba is better than the others; not at all, not a little bit! He's a brute like the rest! But I believe in Zorba because he's the only being I have in my power, the only one I know. All the rest are guts. All the rest are ghosts, I tell you. When I die, everything'll die. The whole Zorbatic world will go to the bottom!” 

The novel is an eloquent illustration of that Zorbatic world.  A fascinating world.  A bewitching world.  An enlightening world.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 114: #MyFavouriteFictionWriter



Monday, April 18, 2016

Legal Lawbreakers


“When the state itself disregards the law, what is to be done?” is a question raised in the lead article of the latest Frontline.  The article is about the Chhattisgarh government’s oppression of the tribal people in order to snatch their lands and hand them over to the corporate bigwigs in the name of development.

The authors argue that the BJP has converted many parts of the country into a laboratory for “neoliberal Hindutva” which combines “Hindutva communalism with a corporate-driven development agenda.”  Mission 2016 is the name of the game in Chhattisgarh.  It seeks to evict the Adivasis from the forests using various oppressive measures such as branding them as Maoists and torturing them.  Various new organisations have come up whose members roam the Adivasi regions, pull up people, demand answers, and threaten outsiders such as lawyers, journalists and activists.

Why have governments turned so anti-people and pro-corporate?  There may be many answers.  Throughout history autocrats have  oppressed the helpless and protected the powerful.  Power always attracts power and detests weakness.  But democracy is meant to protect every citizen.  Is the Indian democracy metamorphosing into autocracy of an ideology plus an economic policy?

The way certain sections of people are oppressed and certain motifs are highlighted or even imposed forcibly on people make us wonder whether India will soon become a theocratic nation in which certain communities of people may be eliminated systematically as the “police state” in Chhattisgarh is doing to the Adivasis.

One is also struck by the very meaning of LAW.  Can whatever the government does become lawful merely because the government has the power to implement policies and impose actions?  Is there an invisible equation between LAW and POWER? 

A school vanished from here last year
My personal experience so far has been that those who have the power can do anything and not only get away with it but also justify it as the right thing.  I returned home yesterday after a brief visit to Delhi.  While in Delhi, I made it a point to visit the place where I worked as a teacher for a decade and a half until last year when the school was shut down by a religious leader who had taken over the management.  There was no trace of the school left in the place except the signboards on the roadside warning “School Ahead.”  An entire school was razed to dust, staff were driven out, false charges were fabricated against those who questioned the what was happening, and some were even physically assaulted.  People of the place seem to have forgotten the whole affair already.  In a few months everybody will forget it because life demands burial of memories.  Especially from the weak and the oppressed. 

The world belongs to the powerful.  Even the government does.  Such is the present state of affairs in the country.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Watery lessons

A scene from the terrace of an apartment in Delhi

Water is the foundation of life. 500,000 litre water was brought to Latur in Maharashtra yesterday by train from a distance of 350 km and each person in Latur got less than one litre.

The cricket pitch and other places belonging to the privileged sections get water galore while the poor have to wait for the water trains to come with one litre of water for each person.

Delhi is one place which taught me that success belongs to those who can wrench it mercilessly by hook or by crook. Now Maharashtra is teaching us a lesson about water.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Temples and Tragedies


Long ago, when our ancestors descended from the tree and started walking on the earth, we allowed religion to hijack everything from our entertainment to our morality, from our pains and joys to our gods and devils.  When the immensity of the cosmic mystery overwhelmed those primitive creatures, it was understandable that they sought solace in superstitions and rituals.  Today, when science has broken through most of the mysteries, revealing the principles of gravitation and quantum mechanics, unseating gods from their celestial thrones, replacing heaven and hell with black holes and stellar bodies, why does religion continue to inflict us with tragedies?

For details: The Hindu
The latest tragedy in a Kerala temple, like most other such tragedies in places of worship, is a man-made one.  The organisers and operators of the fireworks display flung all norms to the cosmic winds for the sake of enhancing the impressiveness of the show.  It’s a kind of competition.  Our temple festival must be more ostentatious than the festival of all other religious institutions in the neighbourhood.  The grander the display, the greater the religion!

We have to liberate ourselves from our snobbery first of all if such tragedies are to be avoided.  Not only firework displays, but also religious processions, conventions and a lot of other means are employed to show off that one’s own religion is capable of making more noise than the neighbour’s.  The greater the noise and grander the display, the more attractive is the religion!  In other words, religion is not really about religion but about our pretentiousness and its satellite vices.

Secondly, we have to liberate our gods from their bondage in our temples, churches and other such places.  When the gods are gone, perhaps we will learn to look within.  And discover the delights of simple humaneness which doesn’t need temples and fireworks.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thinking with Precision


There is a branch of psychology called Cognitive Psychology according to which our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are interconnected.  In other words, our thinking is clouded by our feelings and/or attitudes, and our behaviour is determined by that cloud.

Let us take an example.  A real one.  Smiley, please. 

A religious leader with a big fan (devotee) following declares openly that he would have beheaded those people who refused to pay homage to Bharata Mata, if the law would not have punished him.  How would cognitive psychology assess the godman?

The godman is suffering from a serious cognitive disorder, the cognitive psychologist would say immediately.  His thinking is terribly faulty.  His feelings and attitudes seem to be crude.  And hence his resultant behaviour (making the murderous statement from a public platform knowing that there are thousands of people listening to him with devotion) is neurotic.

Bharat Mata is a symbol of the nation and as such deserves to be respected by all citizens.  But if some people are not willing to chant slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai for their own reasons, why should the godman take offence so much so that he is willing to be a murderer?  Which is a greater evil: refusing to chant a nationalist slogan or beheading people for refusing to chant it?  What is a godman supposed to teach his devotees? 

The errors in the man’s thinking and lack of sophistication in his feelings and attitudes together create a behavioural disorder which needs treatment, according to cognitive psychology. 

That was just an example.  Cognitive psychology can be applied to analyse our behaviour.  All behavioural problems stem from faulty thinking and attitudes. 

Aaron Beck, founder of cognitive therapy, worked with a lot of people suffering from neurotic disorders and found that they all suffered from distorted thinking.  Everyone should worship my gods, My country is the greatest, Difference of opinion is treason – these are examples of distorted thinking.  [These are not examples cited by Beck.  I’m using them for the purpose of this post.]

The remedy is to challenge the distorted thinking.  A counsellor helps the client to challenge his/her own thoughts.  We can do it ourselves too.  The more we question our thoughts and ideas, the more accurate they are likely to become.  The more clearly we learn to think, the less murderous we become.  Or, putting it positively, the more humane we become.



Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Error Called Man


Arthur Koestler considered man an evolutionary blunder.  The lion’s share of the wealth we create is spent in war, terrorism and other destructive activities.  We have infinite gods with countless priests and yet we are not able to surmount the unbounded hatred we carry inside our little hearts.  We work miracles with science and technology but remain crude brutes deep inside us.  Is it all because of some evolutionary error?

Arthur Koestler
Koestler believed it was.  There is “a screw loose in the human mind,” he wrote in his book, The Ghost in the Machine.  He called the Homo Sapiens a "biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process."  It is because the ape began to walk on two legs too quickly.  The whole mutation took place in too short a time for the human heart to change significantly.  The reasoning brain evolved, but the heart remained savage.  That’s what Koestler says.

Koestler relied on neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean’s model of the human brain for his arguments.  According to MacLean, three brains coexist in the human skull: a primitive reptilian one, another inherited from the lower mammals, and the really human one.  These brains function more or less autonomously.  Consequently we, human beings, see the world through two different lenses: a very primitive one which has not evolved much from the brains of the snakes and the donkeys, and the other thinking, reasoning, evolved brain.  Unfortunately, the snake and the donkey inside us insist on imposing their perceptions as the truths on us.  The result is a form of schizophysiology and the crude animal brain makes us delusional mass murderers.

 
Paul D. MacLean
Mooted in the 1960s, MacLean’s theory has been studied in greater detail later and has many takers today in various sciences including psychology.  It has a good number of detractors too.  My knowledge of science being highly limited, I shall not weigh the scientific merits of MacLean’s brain model.  But I think it can make us think about ourselves in a different light.  It can make us think about why we continue to invest in war materials more than peace and compassion.  About why we choose to divide us into Hindus and Muslims, the elite and the untouchable, Ramzade and Haramzade...


Friday, April 8, 2016

Responsible Blogging


People have different reasons for writing.  From an expression of one’s thoughts and feelings to looking for appreciation, writing can be motivated by anything.  In most cases, the motives are mixed.  Blogging too has various motives similarly.

Whatever we do as a social activity must be done with a considerable sense of responsibility since it affects the society one way or another.  Quite a lot of bloggers engage in harmless activities such as putting up simple poems or photos.  Many focus on travel, food, shopping or some such innocuous theme.  However, when it comes to dealing with political, religious, social and other such issues some caution is required.

In 1992, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama predicted that human civilisation would evolve towards a conflict-free utopia founded on liberal democracy and free market capitalism.  Samuel P. Huntington, another political scientist, countered it immediately arguing that the clash of civilisations would continue since each of the major civilisations including the Indian one has its dreams for dominating the world.  Huntington was vindicated by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the fundamentalist assertions in India by the Right wing.  Cultural and religious identities will clash with one another creating conflicts, Huntington had argued.

We are living in the world which is fulfilling Huntington’s prophecy.  In spite of the tremendous progress we are making in the field of science and technology, we are becoming more and more narrow-minded because of the cultural and religious clashes and hankering after dominance.  Probably, science and technology is leaving us in an emotional and ‘spiritual’ vacuum.  And we are filling that vacuum with the intoxication of pop religion and pop culture in the form of various cults and movements.  Godmen of all sorts are becoming more and more popular.  Cultural and religious intolerance is on the rise more than ever and political leaders are weaving rhetorical dreams using strife.

There are a lot of bloggers too who are actively engaged in these activities.  They spread disinformation, hatred, and extremely prejudiced views.  It is in such a context that bloggers need to look within and ask about the role of responsibility in blogging.


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 112: #ResponsibleBlogging

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Patriotism?





Do watch the video.  



If you have the time, read the article about it in the Indian Express written by Swami Agnivesh: Why Baba Ramdev would do well to go into vanvaas.



And then decide whether this godman is a patriot.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Where the mind is in chains


“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it,” said one of Terry Pratchett’s characters in his witty fantasy novel, Diggers.   An open mind belongs to the seeker of truth.  Truth being as elusive and deceptive as happiness, it keeps the seeker going on and on endlessly.  Most people don’t like such endlessness.  People like to snuggle down in the cosy warmth of the status quo.   Religion is the most staunch supporter of the status quo.  And religion insists on putting things into open minds.  And shut them.

The cosy warmth of the status quo is what turns the BJP and its allies against Jawharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University, says Kancha Illaiah in his article in the Indian Express.  Both JNU and HCU have produced numerous thinkers and scholars because their academic environment encouraged the liberal pursuit of truth. Banaras Hindu University, on the contrary, has failed to produce such thinkers and scholars, argues the author, because the very air of Banaras is bathed in status quoism.

The status quo that religions uphold goes against changes especially of social hierarchies.  Both JNU and HCU have a lot of Dalit students and an illustrious set of Dalit alumni while BHU cannot boast of having produced any famous Dalit scholar.  “The only known Dalit politician who studied there was Babu Jagjivan Ram,” says Illaiah. He goes on to say that Jagjivan Ram faced horrible caste discrimination at BHU “and later shifted to the University of Calcutta, where he finished his BSc.”

Caste discrimination is part of the Sangh Parivar ideology, says Illaiah.  Parivar people can never think of changing such deep rooted social hierarchies.  The Privar cannot tolerate changes.  It is only natural that intelligent Dalit students find Karl Marx and other such thinkers more attractive than Golwalkar and Savarkar because there is nothing in the latter that can stimulate the intellect which always seeks to transcend the status quo.  JNU and HCU encourage leftist thinking because they have academicians who are intelligent thinkers and scholars.

The thinking brain seldom rests on status quo.  BJP and its allies want status quo.  Dalits want to change the status quo, the existing social hierarchy which is obviously against their interests. 

I am paraphrasing Kancha Illaiah’s article here merely to draw attention to it.  I also agree with Illaiah to a large extent. 

Source: Here

Let me conclude this with a personal experience.  A few years ago, when I was in Delhi, I made a friend who went on evening walks with me every day for years.  One day he made a very uncharacteristic remark.  “You know, Mr Matheikal, I’m a Brahmin but I don’t mind befriending low caste people.”  I wondered why he made that remark because merely by virtue of not being a Hindu I had no caste.  It did not take me many days to find out the reason, however.  Someone had told him that all Christians were low caste converts (which is not true, in fact).  The irony came a month later.  The school where we worked sent out a form to be filled in where we, the staff, had to enter certain details including our caste status.  I ticked the “General” category.  But my eyes did not fail to notice my “Brahmin” friend’s tick mark: he belonged to the OBC [Other Backward Class] category!  I was amused by the profound irony.  Soon I learned how deeply entrenched the caste feelings are in the minds of the vast majority of people of India.  Hence I think Kancha Illaiah’s views need to be examined seriously.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Buried Giant


Book Review

Memories play a vital role in human life.  It is also necessary to forget many things because some memories may be a painful burden.  Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant, is about memories.

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, set out in search of their son.  They don’t remember why their son left them.  In fact, their memories about many things are vague.  It is because of a magic that King Arthur’s beloved magician, Merlin, had performed in order to bring peace among the Britons and the Saxons.

The novel is set in those days when the Romans had left Britannia and the Saxons came in to take their place.  King Arthur is no more but his nephew, Sir Gawain, is alive though very old.  Axl and Beatrice will encounter Sir Gawain on their way.  Two other persons who join them are Wistan and Edwin.  Wistan is a Saxon warrior who hates Britons.  His mission is to kill the dragon Querig who is as wise as she is wicked.  Sir Gawain’s mission is to protect the dragon because it is through her breath that Merlin’s magic continues to work.  The monks in the monastery where Axl and Beatrice take shelter on their way to their son’s village are also defenders of the dragon.  Edwin is a young boy in search of his mother.

The plot brings together more fantasy and myths than history and reality.  Yet it raises penetrating questions about real life.  One of the monks in the monastery asks Beatrice whether she really wants the mist of forgetfulness to clear, the mist that Merlin’s magic has brought about.  “Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?”  The monk’s question is the central question of the novel.  Finally, when Wistan succeeds in his mission and the mist clears, Axl wonders: “You and I longed for Querig’s end, thinking only of our own dear memories.  Yet who knows what old hatreds will loosen across the land now?”

Life is never a crystal-clear affair.  There is no pure love.  Our kindness is tinged with suspicion or even cruelty.  There are traces of vengeance in our forgiveness. Justice hardly exists in human affairs.  Even the God of the monks is an unjust god who is ready to forget the foulest sins by drawing a veil of penance over them.  In Wistan’s words, “Your Christian god of mercy gives men licence to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing.”

The monks themselves are a dubious lot.  They are not as kind as they appear.  Sir Gawain explains to Axl and Beatrice that “As men of Christ, it’s beyond them to use a sword or even poison.”  So they use devious methods to kill those whom they consider as enemies. 

Axl and Beatrice, the central characters, are a very loving couple.  They can’t even think of living apart for a moment.  Yet is their love purer than any other human love?  Can they be holier than the monks? 

Querig, the dragon, can be killed.  But what about the giant within us?  That is what the novel explores. 

It is a beautiful narrative that takes over the reader entirely from the beginning.  We immerse ourselves into it.  But every now and then the mythical creatures appear reminding us that we are in a fantasy land.  The novel is a unique experience.  For those who enjoy rare, unique experiences and don’t expect life to be a neat system of rights and wrongs fairly balanced or rewarded, this novel is highly recommended.