Monday, March 27, 2017

Women and Splendid Suns

Mariam, the protagonist of Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is advised by her mother that there is no point in putting her trust in man, even if the man is her own father.  “[L]ike a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.  Always.”  But Mariam is a little girl and she loves her father until that love leads to the suicide of her mother and Mariam’s subsequent realisation that her father’s love for her has severe limits. 

Mariam is an illegitimate child born of a servant.  Her father has three legitimate wives who hail from rich families.  The legitimate wives make sure that the illegitimate one is thrown out of the family.  They accuse Mariam’s mother of having seduced their husband.  Mariam’s father is quite helpless in the manoeuvres carried out by his wives.  Even a man in the Islamic tradition which gives no more importance to a woman than a piece of furniture can be rendered helpless when surrounded by three women in the enclosed little space of the family.

At the age of 15, Mariam is married to Rasheed, a man who is old enough to be her father.  That’s yet another manipulation performed by the cunning women.  Religious restrictions can limit one’s freedom but not vices.  The contriving women know that Rasheed will take Mariam far away to Kabul, his place, from Herat, their place. 

Mariam’s inability to produce offspring, though she conceives as many as seven times, makes her worthless to Rasheed.  In his old age, Rasheed marries Laila who is young enough to be his granddaughter.  Laila has a reason to accept him as husband, however.  She had a romantic affair with Tariq who had to leave Kabul along with his family when the war raged between Afghanistan and USSR.  The emotional farewell ended in their making love and Laila became pregnant.  Soon the war kills Laila’s parents.  Rasheed leaps at the opportunity to make the young and pretty Laila his wife in the hope of begetting a son.  Laila sees her own opportunity in the marriage; she will cut her finger that night to produce the required blood drops for the nuptial bed sheet.

Laila gives birth to a daughter whose physical features make Rasheed suspicious about her paternity.  However, Laila gives him a son soon and he is happy. 

A few years later, Tariq returns.  Laila realises that the story about his death as had been told to her by one of Rasheed’s friends was a trick to make her accept Rasheed’s marriage proposal.  Tariq’s return takes the plot to a gruesome climax which gives a tragic legitimacy to Mariam who lived all her life as a ‘harami.’

Hosseini once said that while his first novel, Kite Runner, was about a father-son relationship, this second one was about mother-daughter relationships.  Splendid Suns remains much inferior to Kite Runner and reads more like a Hollywood thriller.  But we get a lot of insights into how women are treated in Islamic Afghanistan.  The communist Afghanistan turns out to be much better than the Taliban one. 

The title of the novel is taken from a poem, ‘Kabul’, by the 17th-century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi.  The “thousand splendid suns that hide behind her wall” refer to the women of Afghanistan hiding behind their bizarre attire.  The novel is about some of those women, how their religion and its men have enslaved them totally. 

Even a name-game in that country involves only male names.  Laila, however, knows that she will name her daughter after Mariam.  Mariam is one of those thousand splendid suns hidden behind walls.  So is Laila. 

The novel sold millions of copies.  It is an excellent thriller.  It is a heartbreaking critique of the way Islam treats women in that country (and implicitly elsewhere).  It leaves the reader with a painful longing: for a less religious and more humane world.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ayodhya Politics – 2

Rajiv Gandhi tried to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, as one of the observers wrote after the Shah Bano and Ayodhya episodes. He had to please both the sections of the population, Hindus and Muslims, in order to tide his party over the revolt from eminent leaders such as V P Singh and Arun Nehru as well as the Bofors scandal.  He addressed a huge gathering in Faizabad (near Ayodhya) and promised Ram Rajya to the people.  Just a few weeks before the general elections in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi sent home minister Buta Singh to participate in the shilanyas ceremony organised by VHP in Ayodhya.

The tactics didn’t yield dividends, however. Congress did not win the majority in the elections and a coalition government led by V P Singh came to power. BJP also became a force to reckon with winning 85 seats in the place of the former 2.  BJP leader L K Advani hit upon an idea to further strengthen the party; he organised a rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat (a place where the Shiva temple had been repeated razed by Muslim invaders) to Ayodhya.  Many of the Hindus were inflamed by V P Singh’s decision to implement the Mandal recommendations on job reservations.  The mood was just right for an emotive rath yatra.  

Advani’s air-conditioned Toyota van moved from city to city, escorted by VHP militants. “The march’s imagery was,” writes Ramachandra Guha in India after Gandhi, “religious, allusive, militant, masculine and anti-Muslim.”  Advani accused the government of appeasing the Muslims and practising “pseudo-secularism.”  A Ram temple in Ayodhya was projected as the symbolic fulfilment of Hindu pride and aspirations.

Advani’s rath yatra ended up as a rakt yatra.  His volunteers clashed with the security personnel leading to at least twenty deaths.  Many religious riots broke out in UP.  In Guha’s words, “Hindu mobs attacked Muslim localities, and – in a manner reminiscent of the grisly Partition massacres – stopped trains to pull out and kill those who were recognizably Muslim.”

V P Singh lost the Prime Minister’s chair to Congress’s Narasimha Rao and BJP’s position in the Lok Sabha improved with 120 seats.  VHP and RSS acquired land around the Babri Masjid and started preparations for constructing the Ram Mandir.  Court orders were blatantly flouted.  The chief minister of UP, Kalyan Singh, turned a blind eye. 

20,000 troops of paramilitary forces were stationed off Ayodhya as more than 100,000 volunteers moved in carrying trishuls, bows and arrows.  Even before the troops were ordered to move in, the volunteers did their job which was apparently well planned much ahead.  “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tor do,” Sadhvi Ritambara’s scream became the mob slogan. Soon the mosque was a heap of rubble.

Advani later claimed that the demolition moved him to tears.  The Sarayu wept tears of blood.

The Sarayu continued to weep as riots broke out in city after city killing at least 2000 people in the two months that followed the demolition.

“No revolution is possible by shedding tears,” roared the Tiger of Mumbai, Bal Thackeray.  He encouraged bloodshed as a sacrifice for the sake of the Akhand Hindu Rashtra.  Hindus and Muslims killed one another in Mumbai and the Tiger fed on the blood.

Hatred is a very potent force.  It has caused a lot of problems in the world, as Maya Angelou said, but has not solved one yet. Hindu-Muslim hatred grew like cancer in the country.  The altercation between Muslim vendors and Hindu volunteers in Godhra in 2002 was just one of the many avatars of the quintessential hatred that came to mark Hindu-Muslim equation in the country.  A whole compartment of a train was engulfed by the fire of hatred.  58 Hindu kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya perished in that fire.

Within hours riots broke out all over Gujarat.  Thousands of Muslims bore the brunt of arson, looting, vandalism and rapes. Chief Minister Narendra Modi justified the violence calling it a “chain of action and reaction.”

The chain of action and reaction binds the Indian mindset to one of the two poles that mark the country’s politics today: Hindu-Muslim, or, in a recent avatar, Hindu-Traitor.  Ayodhya is a symbol of that polarisation.  The place certainly belonged to Hindus once upon a time.  No one can deny the sanctity of the place in the Hindu beliefs and traditions.  But history plays its own inevitable games and like many other temples the Ayodhya temple too was probably replaced by a mosque.  Is it possible to rectify an error by replicating the same error?

A staunch BJP loyalist told me the other day that the Ayodhya temple is “a matter of self-respect” for Hindus.  Not all Hindus may agree with him but a considerable section will, I think.  My question why self-respect has to be rooted in medieval darkness elicited no response from him though he is a learned person.  Eventually I became his ‘enemy’ merely because I questioned some of his views.  He is a symbol of a lot of people I meet these days.  Everyone has a religion.  And everyone is very edgy about that religion.  It is as if religion is a very brittle, gossamer thing just waiting to shatter into smithereens the moment somebody pokes a finger at it.  This atmosphere in the country makes me feel smothered.  I write in order to redeem myself from that feeling.  Ayodhya is just one of the many issues that create such a vitiated atmosphere.  That’s why I pursued the topic.  I would like to take a look at the court verdicts related to the issue as well as the ‘discoveries’ of the Archaeological Survey of India.  Maybe, in the next post. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ayodhya Politics - 1

The Sarayu must have wept quite a lot.  The river which bathed Rama’s childhood and watched the conflicts that the Maryada Purushottam suffered during his adult life went on to witness much more nasty conflicts a whole yug later.

When India became independent more than half of the Muslims made arduous journeys across the new national border reducing their population in India to a meagre 10%.  The first Prime Minister of secular India, a visionary who considered dams more sacred than gods, announced that “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations.”

Ayodhya was not much affected by the Partition.  The Muslims there chose to stay back placing their trust in Nehru’s secularism.  The Muslims had working relationships with the Hindus in Ayodhya.  Muslim artisans made many of the idols that adorned Hindu temples.  One temple there even had a Muslim manager.

Then someone had a dream.  The dream shattered the peace that had hitherto marked the “quiet town of temples, narrow byways, wandering cows and the ancient, mossy walls of ashrams and shrines.”* Abhiram Das, a sadhu, told his disciples that Lord Ram appeared to him in many dreams standing under the central dome of the mosque/temple.  The dream was shared with the Faizabad city magistrate, Guru Dutt Singh, who claimed to have had the same dream many times.  The duo decided to put a Ram idol in the mosque surreptitiously.

The “miraculous” apparition of “Ram Lalla” in the mosque sent tremors through the heart of the Sarayu in Nov 1949.  The sadhus and some Ram devotees lit sacred fires outside the mosque and recited verses from the Ramayana.  Since India is liberated, the birthplace of Lord Ram must also be liberated, Abhiram Das declared.

The government officials in Ayodhya and Faizabad cooperated wholeheartedly with the sadhus in spite of Nehru’s orders to remove the idol from the mosque.  The Muslims who tried to enter the mosque were stopped by the police.  Moreover, the Hindu leaders got some Muslims to sign an affidavit stating that they did not wish to pray in a place which was originally a temple.  [The authenticity of this affidavit has been in question for quite some time now.] A legal battle started soon led by a lawyer named Gopal Singh Visharad to take complete possession of the mosque/temple. Akshaya Brahmachari, a young sadhu who argued that the whole of Ayodhya was Rama’s own place and that the attempt to seize the mosque was a slur on the god was beaten up by the other sadhus and banished from Ayodhya.
Ayodhya on Sarayu

Three decades later, in the 1980s, the sorrow of the Sarayu stretched far and wide and became a national sorrow. In 1984, about 500 sadhus from across India gathered in Delhi in order to formulate strategies for defending Hinduism from onslaught by other religions.  “We cannot even light a holy lamp” at Lord Ram’s birthplace, Karan Singh cried unto the sadhus.  Karan Singh, son of the last king of Kashmir, was terribly upset with the conversion of 400 Dalit families in Meenakshipuram, Tamil Nadu, into Islam in 1981.  The meeting decided that the Hindu “culture was under siege” [Ashok Singhal’s words – he had convened the meeting as VHP’s joint general secretary].  The meeting decided to retrieve three holy sites, Ayodhya being the most important.

A rath yatra was organised immediately starting from Sitamarhi in Bihar.  It reached Ayodhya 12 days later.  The devotees went to the banks of the Sarayu and took an oath holding the river’s water in their cupped hands that they would give up anything in order to construct the Ram mandir.

Two years later, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to Muslim pressure and his party annulled a Supreme Court order in the infamous Shah Bano case which sought some sort of gender equality in Indian Islam.  This appeasement of Muslims enraged the Hindus.  Rajiv Gandhi appeased the Hindus in return by allowing them to open the Ayodhya mosque/temple which had been under lock and key for quite some time.  The politics of religious appeasement got stuck like a cancerous vermin.

The Sarayu wept again. 

* Ayodhya: The Battle for India’s Soul by Krishna Pokharel and Paul Beckett, serialised by The Wall Street Journal from Dec 3 to Dec 8, 2012.

PS. This is going to be much longer than what I expected.  I wish I could make it shorter.  But history is a harsh taskmaster.  It insists on teaching us too many lessons than we can handle.  So let me carry on after a break.  You too, my dear reader, take a break.  Let the Sarayu too have a break. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blogging and some thoughts

Blogging is just about twenty years old.  Though the word ‘blog’ was coined in 1997, there were just 23 blogs in 1999.  The figure leaped to 50 million by the middle of 2006.  That was a phenomenal growth, no doubt. The most popular ones among the early blogs dealt with politics.  Slowly every subject under the sun made its appearance in blogs.

I would become a Yogi Aditynath if I decide what bloggers should write about and what they should not.  I would be the last person to go around burning blogs or anything at all that does not suit my taste.  However, I would certainly expect at least one thing while visiting any blog: it should give me something, something worthwhile.

Once blogging became popular, just about anyone became a writer.  Even illustrious poets like Shelley could not find publishers initially. Shelley paid for the publication of his first book. Bernard Shaw who won the Nobel Prize for literature published many of his plays himself.  Many books which became best sellers eventually were initially rejected by publishers. 

Getting published was quite a tough job.  Blogging made it easy.  Too easy.  Hence everybody – well, almost – became a writer.  But writing is not everybody’s job.  A writer must give something to the reader to think about.  Writing is about ideas.  It’s not just putting words together.  The reader must gain something.  At least something to poke his imagination. 

A lot of blogs fail to do that.  But a lot more blogs do offer fantastic stuff.  Apart from writing, there are excellent photographs, paintings, informative pieces, and so on.  I love those blogs which make me think, which provoke me, which invigorate my imagination, which soothe my soul or at least tickle the funny bone. But, as I already said, I am no Yogi Adityanath.  I won’t ever decide what others should do with their blog.  If I don’t like a blog, I stop visiting it: that’s it.  I won’t go around shooting moral shit on others.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 162: #SeriousBlogging

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yogi Redefined

The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, is someone who has given an entirely new dimension to the word ‘yogi.’  People like me belong to a period which saw yogis as ascetics, people who dwelt in a world of spiritual contemplation, who established a profound relationship with the entire universe based on understanding and compassion.  But I realise that the universe has undergone a sea change.

We have a lot of yogis, babas, sadhus, and what not, along with their female counterparts who have redefined the nomenclatures. Take our latest hero, Yogi Adityanath.  He has been elevated to the highest post in the state though a traditional yogi would not have touched such a position with a barge pole.  His supporters in the state shouted slogans such as: “If you want to say in India, you have to chant ‘Yogi, Yogi.  Those who refuse to say it will not stay in India.”  So we have an entirely new yogi who is dividing the nation into two clearly disjoint groups: pro-Yogi and outcasts. 

“If they kill one Hindu, we will kill hundreds of them,” Yogi Adityanath declared in one of his many incendiary speeches.  One of the prime accused in the 2007 Gorakhpur riots, the yogi faces many criminal charges including defiling a place of worship, attempt to murder, arson, rioting and criminal intimidation.  If this man can call himself a yogi, then you and I can consider ourselves gods.

Words, however, acquire the meanings we give them.  A sizeable population of UP has given the word ‘yogi’ a new meaning.  Yogi Adityanath is a leader who can decimate perceived enemies with the ease of digging up a barren land with a bulldozer.  One of his chelas urged a crowd to dig up the dead bodies of women belonging to a particular community (the dominant perceived enemy in UP) and rape them.  The yogi sat on the stage listening to that speech with the indifference that only yogis who have acquired the highest degree of enlightenment can. 

But callous indifference is not the detachment that Lord Krishna wanted Arjuna to learn though we are soon going to have that advice taught to our children as the Gita is going to be prescribed as a compulsory textbook in schools.

Heroes do not make history, as historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto pointed out in his classical book Civilizations. History makes heroes.  India stands today at a crucial juncture of its history.  There is not a single leader with a great vision for the country.  Left to themselves, people made their own idols out of the vacuum.  Out of sheer chaos. 

The easiest solution for any problem is to blame someone.  Leaders like Yogi Adityanath did just that.  Many other leaders of his party who had already done just that went on to occupy eminent positions in the country.  Secondly, the rabble love violence.  Violence is the most facile means of exorcising the inner demons.  Every frustrated man would love to kick at least his dog if not his wife in order to feel more at ease with himself.  The frustrated rabble love to assault and rape, rape even the dead-and-buried bodies.  When the looting, arson and rapes are carried out like a religious ritual with a yogi leading the purification ceremony, the devotees can sit back and think that the enemies are vanquished and that they can begin anew now.  Tragically, no such new beginnings went far at any time, in any place, in history.

Far-reaching vision belonged to yogis and other great ascetics as well as philosophers.  Not to conquerors.  Conquerors inevitably suffer from myopia.  They have all been marauders of one type or the other.  India at present perceives itself as a conqueror.  Conqueror with a difference.  The real difference lies in the new meanings that old words have acquired. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Baba ban gaya CM

A fairy tale without fairies

Once upon a time Babas were confined to hermitage and holy things.  Those were the days of fairies and mermaids, tree nymphs and water sprites. Then one day a disease called sickularism entered the forests and rivers.  Sickularism spread like wildfire or plague or TV ads.  The fairies and mermaids fell prey and died one by one with apparent vengeance.  They became extinct.  So did the nymphs and sprites. 

The Babas were starved of nymphs and sprites.  So they migrated in search of the steroid of inspiration.  Political slogans spiced up with the right measures of patriotic herbs and nationalist leaves and cultural roots brought them ecstasy and heavenly bliss.

The bliss spread like an exhilarating amrit and the nation became spiritual.  Sickularism was declared the national disease.  Schools were converted into ashrams in order to deal with the national malaise.  Textbooks were rewritten.  The new knowledge intoxicated the whole nation.

Pappu lost his job as school teacher like many others who were found not qualified enough to continue in the job on account of being sickular.  The manager and the principal of his school summoned him to the office.

“We regret to inform you that you are not wanted here anymore.”  The manager said with her characteristic curtness which was accentuated further by neo-nationalism and neo-patriotism .  Her silver hair fluttered in the gentle breeze of the fan and caught Pappu’s attention. 

“There are many organisations doing charity works for treating the sickulars,” said the principal trying to ameliorate what she interpreted as shock while Pappu was still admiring the manager’s fluttering silver hairs.  In spite of the silver hairs the manager’s face reminded Pappu of some nymph of his imagination. 

“Are you all right, Mr Pappu?” asked the principal.  The question brought Pappu back to the reality at hand.  The reality of the world without nymphs and fairies.  With patriotism and nationalism. 

Having absorbed the harshness of the situation with all the equanimity he could muster, Pappu said, “Before I leave I’d like to say two things.”

Manager and principal stared at him.

“One, you’ve ruined one life mercilessly.  Two, Pip-Pip.”

Manager and principal looked at each other as Pappu walked out of the office calmly.

“What’s Pip-pip?” Manager asked.

“Pip is the hero of Great Expectations, Dickens’ novel.” Principal explained sounding pedantic as usual.

“So he is going with great expectations.”  Manager muttered and laughed as if that was the joke of the year.

When Pappu came out of the campus to the street, a victory march was going on celebrating the election of a Baba as the new Chief Minister of the state.  Having nothing else to do, Pappu joined the march and repeated the patriotic and nationalist slogans.  He felt very relaxed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Absurd Equations


Amit remembered his math teacher speaking about absurd equations as he lay on the street beaten black and blue by the moral police.  (a+b)(a-b) = a2-b2-1 is an absurd equation, for example, the teacher had said.  It has no valid solution.

No valid solution.  Amit mumbled to himself as he sat on the roadside looking at the bruises on his body inflicted by some upper caste men who claimed to be defenders of Bharatiya culture. 

The colours of Holi concealed the bruises. 

What wrong did he do?  He had just put a pinch of the Holi colours on Shyam, his boyhood friend.  They were classmates in school.  Long ago.  He used to help Shyam with mathematics.  One of those days, years ago, as children, they hugged each other on the occasion of Holi.  Shyam’s father slapped Amit for that.

“You filthy untouchable!  How dare you hug my son, the son of a Brahmin?”  Shyam’s father thundered.  His eyes burnt with hatred.  It was just a day after the math teacher had spoken about absurd equations. 

Amit was a brilliant student and the teacher was fond of him.  The teacher was a Brahmin too.  But he never wore the sacred thread of the Brahmins.  “Mathematics is incompatible with Brahmanism,” said the teacher when Amit asked him once about it.  He was a kind man, the teacher.  Unlike other teachers.  And most unlike all the Brahmins Amit knew.

“Why did god create Dalits?” Amit asked the teacher one day.

The teacher patted his back gently and smiled.  “God did not create anything.  Man did.”

Amit passed high school with brilliant marks.  He got job as a sweeper.  His father could not afford to educate him further.  The family needed money for food.

It was twenty years later that Amit met Shyam.  He had just got down from a huge car.  When Amit saw his old friend he forgot everything else.  He rushed to him and rubbed a pinch of Holi colour on his cheek.  Shyam was a little stunned but he smiled.  It was then the group which called itself the moral police approached them.  They started beating Amit with the sticks they were carrying.  “How dare you?”  That’s all what they asked while they beat him again and again.  Shyam had vanished from the spot when it was all over and Amit lay on the street with bruises all over his body and the Holi colours smearing the bruises.

“Poverty is the biggest crime.”  Amit remembered his math teacher telling him once.  “If you are rich, your caste won’t matter.  Nothing will matter.  Not even the crimes you’ll commit.”

The people in the moral police were not rich.  Amit knew it.  But they could commit crimes too with impunity.  It’s not about riches.  No, there’s something else that gives such power to these people.

Absurd equations.  “Why did you write minus one, sir?” Amit had asked.  “Couldn’t it be minus anything?  Any number?”

“One by one,” the teacher said.  “One by one is how the elimination will take place, my boy. One by one.”

Amit did not understand that. But it sounded ominous.  The way the teacher had said it made it sound ominously prophetic. 

Amit woke up from his thoughts by the sound of an uproar from the roof of the mosque that stood a few yards away.  Some people had mounted the roof with saffron flags.  They were shouting slogans which hailed the BJP.  The party had just won the state assembly elections. 

One by one.  Amit saw the gloom in the eyes of his math teacher. 

“Yogi Aditynath is likely to be the CM.” Someone was telling his companions as they walked towards the mosque.

Yogi Adityanath was a math graduate, Amit knew.  The yogi was a master of absurd equations, Amit knew.  One by one.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Religion?

Religion has always been a tool for oppressing sections of people so that the oppressors can uphold their own interests easily.  In our own country, some clever men (men, and not women) invented a supernatural creature in order to establish the caste system which was highly oppressive for the vast majority of people.  A small minority became the most powerful people who controlled gods, the scriptures (rubrics and canons as well as truths), politics by subordinating the kings and their warriors, and everybody else.  

From the time Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, it ceased to be a religion of love and compassion.  Thousands of people were eliminated labelled as heretics, witches, pagans, and so on. 

Islam has its own jihads of all sorts which oppress and even eliminate whole sections of people.

Connected with the oppressor role of religion are the material benefits it brings.  The priestly classes always enjoyed infinite benefits.  The Brahmins in India and the first estate in France are just two examples.  Today, people attach themselves to those in high positions in religions and derive many material benefits.  For example, I know businessmen who have established strong relationships with godmen and other religious leaders at whose residences take place meetings between the religious leaders, political leaders and the traders.  Under the guise of religion, a lot of malpractices get ritualised or sanctified.  You can encroach on forest lands, break any rule with impunity or do just anything (which ordinary mortals will never dare do) provided there is a religious leader to support you.

In India today, nationalism has become a dominant discourse and it is inextricably intertwined with religion.  Violence and even terrorism become holy because of the religious associations.

Like the clich├ęd coin with two sides, religion has certain good aspects too.  There are plenty of religious people who carry out remarkable service for fellow human beings.  There is a lot of charity work being done.  There are excellent schools and hospitals run by religious people (though most of them are becoming commercial ventures today).  There are genuinely saintly people. 

Most human beings have an urge to transcend themselves.  Religion provides avenues to reach the divine, what is beyond the self.  Personally, my firm conviction is that divinity should first of all be discovered within one’s self.  One who cannot do that will seldom discover divinity anywhere else.  And one who does that will be compassionate to fellow human beings because he/she will realise the divinity that underlies all reality.

There are thousands of people who lead eminently good lives with the help of religion.  But the limelight seldom falls on such people.  The limelight invariably falls on those who misuse religion because it is in love with power and power structures.  Two of the prominent political leaders today who steal most of the media attention are persons who have misused religion in order to kick up nationalist sentiments in their people.

If such misuse of religion could be prevented, it could possibly be a good transforming agent – transforming the world into a paradise.  But experience shows that it is mere wishful thinking.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 161: #WhyReligion

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cruelty and the Right Wing

Professor Mukul Manglik of Ramjas College, Delhi concludes his interview to Frontline with a quote from historian Howard Zinn: “Human history is not only a history of cruelty, but also of compassion, courage and kindness... and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is inhuman and cruel around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”

Struggle against Right Wing cruelty
Source: India Today
The students’ union, ABVP, had unleashed a lot of cruelty on the campus and the Professor was speaking about that.  He mentions in the interview that he as well as many other teachers feels intimidated by ABVP which physically assaulted some teachers during the agitation. 

ABVP is a student organisation that is affiliated to RSS and nurtured by BJP both of which take pride in Hindu culture and civilisation.  The teacher is placed on a par with god in the ancient Hindu tradition.  It then becomes extremely ironical and darkly comical that teachers in a college in the capital of the country feel intimidated by ABVP.

Violence is nothing new for RSS or BJP.  But when it takes violence from the streets and electoral arenas to the campus and lets even teachers be beaten up by students, the organisations become mere caricatures of what they profess to be.  In their eagerness to saffronise the country, RSS and BJP are vitiating the campuses.  This will have serious repercussions in the future.  The country may be saffronised but it will also be reduced into a snake pit of hatred and violence, petty thinking and regression.

Our hope lies in what Howard Zinn said.  Human species has survived in spite of all the cruelty practised incessantly by organisations, parties and other agents because there have always been people who defied cruelty and inhumanity.  The greatest challenge faced by India today, arguably, is the negativity propagated by the ruling party and its multifarious agents.  The negativity is cleverly concealed beneath the facade of development mantras.  A day will come when the people will understand whose development is being taken care of actually.  Then the tables will be turned.  Nobody, however great he may appear to be, can go on befooling a whole nation for a long time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Irom Sharmila’s Disillusionment

Irom Sharmila in Santhi Gramam
Sixteen years of youth is the price that Irom Sharmila paid for learning the lesson that politics is not meant for idealists.  She has reasons to feel disillusioned and dejected.  She has reasons to seek shelter in Santhi Gramam in Kerala. 

“Politics is dirty by nature,” she learnt the hard way.  There’s no place for idealists in politics.  The age of the Mahatma and his hunger strikes are fairy tales today.  We live in a world of hardcore pragmatism of the kind espoused by none other than Lord Krishna in Kurukshetra.  Politics is war.  Strategies matter, not idealism. 

“Dharma is subtle,” the great idealist can only philosophise. And perish for that Dharma. 

Ms Sharmila blamed money power and muscle power.  It’s much more than that, dear Ms Sharmila.  It’s brain power.  And there’s divine power too.  There is a whole pantheon of gods involved in this war called politics today in our country.  It’s a war to redeem Bharat from all kinds of mlecchas.  Money is just one of the many strategies.  Each time you hear great concepts like ‘development’ the idealist in you may be reawakened.  Development is a strategy too. 

Irom Sharmila seems to have understood that.  She has decided to quit politics.  Right decision.  Politics is for those who are “made of sterner stuff.”  Mr Sharmila has reached the right place, in the company of Uma Preman of Santhi Gramam.  Ms Preman knows how to combine idealism with humane pragmatism.  Humane, not Machiavellian politics. And pragmatic, not effete idealism. 

Best wishes to you, Ms Sharmila.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Vast majority of people are ideal followers.  Ask them what they are following and you will get blank looks.  For example, ask a person why he believes in his/her religion or why he/she votes for a particular party.  I’m ready to bet that you won’t get satisfactory answers unless some quotidian blah-blah is enough for you. 

People want other people.  Not merely for company.  People want other people in order to get on in life.  From the simple drinking water problem to the complex games that people play, everything becomes much easier to deal with if you have other people to help you. 

Other people throw in support if you belong to their religion, political party or some such group.  Religious beliefs and political convictions are not much more profound than that.  If you don’t believe me, probe a believer’s knowledge about his/her religion.  In 9 cases out of 10, you will meet with ignorance.  Politics is likely to fare better.

Even if there is awareness, probe a little further and you will be shocked by the lack of conviction. That is, they may know that their religion teaches love and such wonderful things but they are not convinced that all those wonderful things will actually help much in the daily drudgery called life.  Actual life has little to do with all those wonderful things associated with one’s religion.  Religion is good because I can get a job with some powerful religious leader’s help, gain admission for my children in reputed schools, or even get my plumbing done without much hassle.

It is much better in politics.  When I was constructing my house last year, I got all the paper works done with the ease of wading across a shallow river because my friend had at least one party associate in every office I went to.  Life is much simple if you have political connections.  So I have become a follower now.  But I know what I’m following and how much it actually means to me.  You can call me a super hypocrite.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Donkey and I

I share the cynicism of George Orwell’s donkey, Benjamin, in Animal Farm.  When the revolution took place on the farm, Benjamin with his asinine stubbornness refused to be enthused. “Life would go on as it had always gone on,” he said, “that is, badly.”  The animals were so much overjoyed by the revolution that they did not bother to label him antinational.  Eventually, Benjamin was proved right.  The original motto, “All animals are equal”, changed into “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal.”

I congratulate Mr Narendra Modi and his Sancho Panza Amit Shah on BJP’s sweeping victory in UP and impressive performance in the other states. Though impulsive actions like demonetisation bring to my mind the images of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Orwell’s Animal Farm may be a more apt metaphor. Dreams are galore.  Promises abound. In the end, however, some chosen animals remain more equal.

I love the dreams, however.  I am a dreamer myself.  I would love to see Swachh Bharat a reality.  At least the money collected for that in the form of cess could be utilised effectively.  My dreams about a corruption-free Bharat still remains a dream.  I continue to pay more service charges and get the same old shoddy services.  I wish I didn’t have to pay so many service charges at least for taking out my own money from my savings. I wish development reached every citizen, irrespective of religious affiliations.  I wish, at least, starving children didn't have to produce aadhar cards for getting their midday meals...

But I am more Benjamin than Sancho.  I know that life will go on as it always has. 

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...