Thursday, August 31, 2017

Friend, Unfriend

My FaceBook account is accessible only to my friends.  At least, that’s how I intended it and fixed the settings.  The reason is that I want only those people who know me to read what I write in that social media which is not as civilised a place as the blogosphere.  Moreover, I make a lot of political statements there and many people may not like such statements, especially those who are known as bhakts these days. 

The other day I made a comment on a link posted in FB by a blogger friend.  I used to avoid her ever since I discovered that she and I were poles apart in our attitudes to the current politics in the country.  But something provoked me to make a comment.  She reacted saying that she does not appreciate such comments and I should not use her space for writing such things.  I unfriended her immediately.  When there arise conditions and restrictions on what you can express, it is no more friendship.  I don’t make rude or vulgar comments anyway.  

But the next day the grand lady sent me a fairly long apology via messenger and sent me a friend request.  I told her the apology was out of place.  If we are poles apart in our attitudes and views, we should keep apart from each other.  But I accepted the friendship particularly because she said that we should accept divergent opinions.  Within moments of my accepting her friendship offer, she unfriended me. 

I laughed like a mad man when I saw what she did.  What was she trying to prove?  That it was her prerogative to befriend or unfriend, not mine?  

There is a kind of fraudulence in the attitude of such people.  They are not what they pretend to be.  They preach big morals in their writings and pretend to be profound philosophers.  I am blunt when it comes to calling a spade a spade.  But only when it is a spade.  I don’t pretend. 

The people whom I keep as far away from me as possible are pretenders.  I don’t mind if I have only a handful of friends.  It is better to have a few genuine people around than a thousand frauds.

Inspired by Indispire Edition 184: #Friend2Stranger

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The abundance of Onam

Onam unfolds a floral carpet for Maveli (From last year's Onam celebration in my school)

Onam celebrations have already got underway in Kerala though the actual festival falls on 4 Sep this year.  But Onam is a season in the state, not just a day.  It is a mega event which brings together flowers and music, dances and boat races, and of course the legend of Maveli or Mahabali. 

The legend is pregnant with the typical Malayali sarcasm.  Mahabali was an asura king, according to the legend.  Asuras are demons and are opposed to the devas or gods.  Mahabali (literally means ‘great sacrifice’) tilted the cosmic balance by refusing to be as evil as asuras are supposed to be.  He was too good, in fact.  He created a utopia in what now is Kerala.  He brought prosperity to his people who lived in perfect bliss.  There was no evil.  Onam celebrates the memory of that great king who made Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas a reality.  The most popular Onam folksong recounts the prosperity, equality and honesty that reigned supreme in beloved Maveli’s kingdom. 

The gods were unhappy, however, with this tilt in the cosmic balance.  An asura king is not supposed to be more benevolent than the gods.  So none other than God Vishnu took avatar as Vamana and punished Maveli by sending him underground, to Patala.  His last wish was granted, however: to make an annual visit to his beloved country.  Onam celebrates the return of Maveli to his people from Patala.

Malayalis are notoriously sarcastic.  Onam is a celebration of that sarcasm also.  Which other people would place a demon above the gods vis-à-vis benevolence?  Moreover, make the gods jealous of the demon?

Of course, there’s something much deeper than sarcasm about Onam.  Exile is one major theme of the Onam legend.  The king himself is sent into exile.  I wonder if there’s any people other than the Jews who lived in exile (diaspora and pravasi are two ubiquitous words in the Malayali literature).  Quite a few million people of Kerala (whose total population is about 36 million) live outside the country and a few million others live outside the state within the country.  Interestingly there are about 3 million migrant workers in Kerala, mostly people from Bihar and West Bengal.  It’s a wonder how Malayalis seek their El Dorado outside while people from other states discover their El Dorado in Malayalanadu.  (It’s also a wonder why these migrant workers don’t go to the state which is being projected as the paragon of development.)

But exile is a relatively recent phenomenon.  In those days when the Maveli legend was created the Malayali was not an exile in search of his El Dorado.  Though the exile theme may have played a role in the contemporary fascination of the Malayali with Onam, the origin of the legend may owe itself to something else. 

Could it be the aspirations of the subaltern people that gave birth to the legend? In his groundbreaking book, Jaativyavastitiyum Keralacharitravum (The Caste System and Kerala History), P K Balakrishnan (1926-1991) speaks about the subaltern status of the Malayalis in the ancient period.  There was no historical civilisation in ancient Kerala, according to Balakrishnan.  The geographical region which is known as Kerala today relied solely on the monsoon for all cultivation in those ancient days.  Extremely poor low class people did all the manual labour.  The yield from such climate-dependent cultivation was so limited that even the higher class people lived in semi-starvation. 

These semi-starved people could not even derive the benefits of the foreign trades that took place in those days.  A lot of spices and herbs were exported from Kerala to many countries.  These spices and herbs grew abundantly in the verdant and fertile lands which were fed luxuriously by the monsoon and tropical sun.  But the trades were carried out by people who came in from outside the region.  They made use of the indigenous people as slaves.  The traders became rich and the indigenous people continued to remain in poverty.  Even the local kings were incapable of imposing taxes effectively on these powerful traders. 

Could the legend of a benevolent and powerful king like Maveli have originated in such a historical context?  Maveli could have been the metaphorical realisation of a subaltern people who saw the wealth of their land being carried away by foreigners.  Vamana was perhaps the god of those foreigners, an inimical god?

Whatever be the origin of the Maveli legend, Onam today is a celebration of abundance.  Much of the Malayali affluence may have come from abroad.  The lifestyle of the Malayali has undergone so much change that it is no more quite Malayali.  The plain truth is that the Malayali has forgotten the old saying Kaanam vittum Onam unnanam (Celebrate Onam even if you have to sell what you have).  The saying implies that the festival was rooted in the longings of a people who didn’t possess much.  Onam was a creation of abundance.  In all probability, it was a harvest festival and little more.  But gods were required to add the necessary flavour to festivals.  Thus the Malayali invented Maveli and Vamana. 

Maveli the asura still towers above Vamana the god in the Malayali psyche.  In that way, Onam is also a celebration of the human rebellion against the divine oppressions.  Onam is a celebration of the abundance of humanity.  Let humanity dance.  Let humanity pulsate above the hatred sown by the devotees of alien gods.  Let there be an abundance of humanity.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Redefining God

In Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Herr Keuner someone asks Herr K if there is a god.  Herr K said, “I advise you to consider whether your conduct would change in the light of your particular answer to this question. If it would change, then I can help you at least to this extent, that I say, you have already decided. You need a God.”

When Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov declared that “There is no God and hence everything is permitted,” it was a painful realisation that God was a need for most people to give the necessary reins to their behaviour.  God is a moral police who tells us what is right and wrong and why we should do the right things.  That’s why we find the gods in various scriptures giving too many commandments. 

As many thinkers have pointed out, however, “A God whom one needs, is not needed.”  Catholic theologian Hans Kung, in his magnum opus Does God Exist?, explains this thus: “… God can never be a function or a means to an end (for the education of children, for politics, Church and so son), if he is to remain God.”  Kung also refers to certain thinkers and theologians who argued that “A God who is there, is not God.”  What such thinkers argue is that God is not an entity like the Qutab Minar or the Chilka Lake or even the “love between two human beings.”

Most people view God as an entity: a moral police, a solace, a protector-preserver-destroyer, and so on.  Such a God may fulfil certain meaningful functions in our life and make life’s drudgery easier.  But that God will remain a tool, a means and little more.  Such gods can turn deadly in times of strife.  They become our beloved possessions in need of defence.  Instead of the God protecting us, we protect our God by fighting wars and jihads. 

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not regard God as a person.  Truth for me is God… God is an idea, Law Himself…. He, therefore, does not rule our actions and withdraw Himself.  When we say He rules our actions, we are simply using human language and we try to limit Him.”  It is only when we can rise to such a level of understanding God that we will be genuinely spiritual.  Anyone who has reached that level of understanding will never indulge in any kind of violence in the name of gods. 

Today, as the country waits with bated breath for the reaction of certain religious people to the verdict on a godman, it is good to think about our god and religion.  Let us liberate god from our jejune clutches so that God will liberate our souls.

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...