Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Falsehood in Bharat


One of my old colleagues in Delhi shared the above in his Facebook space today.  I was amused.  I controlled my amusement with a hearty laugh.  I did not comment.  In fact, I stopped commenting on the posts made by many of my Delhi friends because they are not even fit to be counted as jokes.  Blatant lies, that’s what they are.  But my friends in Delhi and other parts of North India believe they are truths.  In fact, these are ‘truths’ fabricated by BJP after it came to power in Delhi three and a half years ago. 

I’m taking this as an example.  Just one out of the innumerable lies foisted on the nation as historical truths by the ruling party.  Knowledgeable people will ignore these.  At best, they will have hearty laughs like me.  I too kept on ignoring them.  But I was aghast when some of my students in Kerala (where I teach now) started taking some of these posts seriously.  This blog post is for their sake.  Beware, my young friends.  There is a lot of falsehood being foisted on us cleverly.  Save yourselves from them.  Learn the real history from scholarly books.

What is the truth behind this new lie about Jawaharlal Nehru?  On 26 June 2015, a series of IP addresses allegedly belonging to the Government of India edited many Wikipedia pages and foisted lies on readers.  On 1 July 2015, Times of India reported this matter.

These lies were later corrected by volunteer editors of Wikipedia.  However, many right wing people in India downloaded screenshots and used other methods to ‘save’ the lies [such as quoting them in certain websites] in order to perpetuate them.  One such lie was that Nehru’s grandfather was a Muslim.  "Gangadhar was born as a Muslim by the name of Ghiasuddin Ghazi but changed his name to a Hindu Ganga Dhar to escape British clutches."  A lot more such lies were put up in Wikipedia

A lot of lies are being foisted on the nation today through social media and other means of communication.  BJP is spending crores of rupees on publicity of duplicitous history.  There are thousands of people engaged in this task.  It is the duty of any honest citizen to verify such information that is bombarding us from infinite sources.  Beware. 


   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bhima’s Passions


Having just finished reading M T Vasudevan Nair’s Malayalam novel, രണ്ടാമൂഴം [The Second Turn], I wonder whether the award-winning novel would have been written today.  It was written in 1984 and went on to receive more than 50 reprints in Malayalam, let alone the translations.  The fate of movies like Padmavati makes me think that the novel would have attracted much controversy had it been published today.

However, the novel is being made into a movie, the most expensive non-English movie with a budget of $155 million [INR 1000 crore].  Maybe India will be a different country by 2021, the year in which the movie will be completed, and the movie won’t court undue controversy. 

The novel takes quite an unorthodox look at the Mahabharata. Bhima is the narrator and in his perspective no character is divine or even unduly superhuman.  Even Krishna appears as just another warrior and king of a small kingdom.  Bhishma gets hardly any importance since Bhima had little to do with him. 

The title Second Turn refers to the secondary position that Bhima always received among the Pandavas in spite of the fact that they all knew that he was the most heroic among them.  When it comes to their common wife, Bhima’s turn comes after Yudhishthira.  When it comes to the skills taught by Dronacharya, Bhima is sidelined in favour of Arjuna.  However, when it comes to having to fight deadly enemies like rakshasas, Bhima is the first choice.  Even Draupati wants Bhima when she needs something extraordinary like the Saugandhika flowers.  The flowers are, however, discarded by the beautiful queen no sooner than they are offered to her by her most ardent admirer who gets them after much trouble and adventure. 

The novel presents all the characters as human beings with ordinary feelings and passions like lust, jealousy, anger and greed.  The author is a scholar who did extensive research before writing the novel.  The period in which it is set come alive in the novel.  The dress styles, the architecture of different places and the kind of weapons employed in warfare are all presented with as much accuracy as possible.  The novels is so engrossing that I completed reading it in two days. 

The thought that dominates my mind is: why did readers receive it without any problem while many books and movies with much less controversial stuff stirs up more ill feelings today?  Why has India changed in undesirable ways?  Why have Indians become intolerant today?  Why are we regressing?

Bhima is both heroic and very fallibly human in the novel.  India has lost the ability for true heroism, it looks like.  Indians have become too fallibly human.  That’s not a healthy sign.


Monday, November 27, 2017

The Perfect Man

Fiction

“I can get you arrested for attempting to bribe a government officer,” Alex said imperiously to the man sitting in front of him.

The man had come to get his contribution to the Labourers’ Welfare Fund assessed.  “One percent of the total cost of construction is the legal amount,” Alex had told him.  “I have assessed the cost of the construction of your house as ₹70 lakh.  So you have to contribute ₹70,000 to the Labourers’ Welfare Fund.”

The man pleaded with Alex to reduce the cost of construction to ₹40 lakh.  “₹10,000 will be yours,” the man said sotto voce. 

After threatening the man with imprisonment, Alex threw a glance at Leela who sat at the next table.  Leela was Alex’s colleague.  “Isn’t she impressed with my honesty?”  Leela pretended not to have heard anything and carried on with her work.

It didn’t matter, of course.  His honesty was not meant to impress anyone.  He was an honest officer unlike other government officers.  He had an exemplary sense of morality.  He was proud of that.

He was proud of himself.  He thought he was quite a perfect man.  A man of values and principles.  A man of convictions.  An ideal government officer.  And an ideal husband at home.

Catherine, his wife, had a high regard for him.  She cooked for him his favourite dishes, washed his clothes, pressed them, polished his shoes and kept the home spick and span as he wished it to be.

“Then why did she do this to me?”  Alex could not understand.  He had returned from office as usual.  He expected his hot cup of coffee as usual.  And some snacks prepared by Catherine herself.  Instead what awaited him was a letter.

Dear Alex,

I’m leaving.  What you need is a robot, a robot as perfect as you.  What I need is love.  Raju who works in our farms loves me.  I love the passion with which he makes love to me when you are perfecting your perfection at the office.

Good bye.


Catherine

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Darkness of Padmavati


Historians are not sure whether Padmavati is a mere legend or a historical figure.  That doesn’t matter either.  Objective truth is not the concern of most people.  People want convenient truths.  People want truths that serve their practical purposes.  Most religious truths belong to that category. 

Padmavati is also one such expedient truth.  What is that truth? 

I am Rani Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor.  People call me the Queen of Beauty.  I have never understood why our men bother about beauty at all.  They are warriors and love fighting. Bravery, physical strength and honour are the values they really cherish and want all of us to possess.  We cherish beauty too.  But we’d prefer to keep beauty veiled behind the purdah.  If anyone other than the husband dares to raise the purdah, he will be killed.  Beauty is a private property among us.  We, the women, are our men’s private properties.

That is how my story of Padmavati began, a story which I wrote when the controversy about the Bhansali movie broke out.  My story was, among other things, a peep into the Rajput perception of women.  Women are men’s possessions in that perception.  Precious properties.  Their very identity is concealed behind the veils that drape their faces.  The men will fight on behalf of those properties just as a savage tribal man would hunt heads to keep as his glorious trophies.

At the end of that story, Padmavati sets herself ablaze in order to “guard the Rajput honour.”  The other major purpose of the Padmavati legend (apart from teaching that women are men’s private properties) is precisely that: the honour of the tribe is the honour of the man and it is a woman’s duty to sacrifice herself for safeguarding it.

The legend of Padmavati, like most legends, is created in order to reinforce certain ideals which some powerful individuals of a community want to reinforce.  Today when some individuals are fighting to guard the honour of Padmavati, what they are actually doing is to reinforce their version of certain tinted truths. 

Whatever those truths may be, the fact remains that they are their truths and not everybody’s truths.  In other words, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has as much right to explore Padmavati’s psyche as Salman Rushdie had to explore the psyche of Prophet Mohammad in Satanic Verses or Nikos Kazantzakis had to delve into Jesus’ mind in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Moreover, who are the Rajputs to tell the other millions of people what they should think, create and entertain themselves with?  When they dictate terms to the artist or anyone else, like the right wing organisations in the country have been doing in the past few years, they are behaving just like the crusaders of the Dark Ages. 

India should liberate itself from such parochial and obsolescent mindset.  The Rajputs and similar crusaders in India are taking the country backward into more and more darkness.

From 'Man Against Myth' by Barrows Dunham



Saturday, November 25, 2017

Children and Crime


When children rush in where adults fear to tread, there is cause for concern.  Children are committing suicide for reasons as silly as being scolded by parents or teachers.  Children are committing crimes which adults would find repulsive.  Why is innocence fleeing from children?

Germaine Greer described the library as “a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.”  The library is a treasure house of knowledge and information.  The library brings to you heroes and villains, notions and perversions, the saint and the sinner.  The library opens your inner eye and reveals the hidden secrets of the world.  While knowledge is a priceless treasure, it is also potential terror.  That is why the biblical God asked Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of knowledge. 

Today children are exposed to a tremendous lot of information which most of them are not able to handle effectively.  The mobile phone with internet connection, the social media and the television expose children to worlds they are not able to comprehend and cope with.  They enter the adult world before they are even able to grasp the basic rules of that world.  They are confounded by the monstrous chiaroscuro of that world.  Consequently they fumble with the shadows and metamorphose into shadows eventually.  Childhood is a shadow game today, much like life in Christine Feehan’s novel Shadow Game.

Is childhood lost altogether?  I don’t think so.  There are still many children who feel loved and cared for by parents and significant others.  Such feelings of security are the only things that can save childhood.  Providing those feelings, creating such an environment, is the duty of the adults.  The adults are too busy, however, it seems, with too many other things.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 197: #crimeinchildren



Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rocks and Water


Hogenakkal in Tamil Nadu bordering Karnataka is a place where rocks and water interplay to produce a unique symphony of nature.  Water keeps gushing from all around into a lake in which coracles (small round rafts) carrying tourists dance blissfully to the rhythms of the nature’s symphony.  

I visited the place the other day with a group of students.  It was an awesome experience.  The rocks that tower all around you like a mammoth fortress look like a phenomenal sculpture.  Water has created its own unique artwork in those carbonatite rocks.  One can spend hours admiring the beauty of those rocks.  You can admire the waterfalls all around if you prefer.  The place is also described as the Niagara Falls of India because of the number of waterfalls that straddle the rocks. 

I love water.  In fact, it’s quite a love affair that I share with water.  Water embraces you totally.  It engulfs you.  It swallows you.  But love affairs are private and I didn’t jump into the waters of Hogenakkal precisely for that reason.  Moreover, I was put off quite much by the waste thrown by tourists into the water in certain places.  With a little effort from the government’s side, the place can be converted into a mesmerising tourist spot. 

Hogenekkal is a rare work of nature’s art.  Rocks and water create a distinctive magic there.

Some pictures from the place: 

Getting ready for the coracle ride
Let's go.
 
Get, Set, Go
 Rocks and Water

Rocks tell stories
Did the carving hurt you, Rock?
Even the coracle man knows when to stop rowing
Carve me too, Waters
Not rocks only
Wow!
Did you notice that little white spot against the greenery?
Have a splash before we wind off

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Vampire Within



There was a period in my life when I regarded myself as the personification of perfection.  When I grew out of it I realised that the pretension was a subconscious ploy to conceal the painful conflicts within.  It took years and a lot of people’s relentless jabs and prods for me to come to terms with the insecurity feelings that haunted my inner being like a bloodsucking vampire. 

When I exorcised the vampire from my being, I found myself withdrawing from society altogether.  I realised with some horror how unfit I was in the society: incapable of understanding people’s underlying motives and meanings and hence incapable of dealing with them without hurting myself. 

Solitude becomes a soothing balm when you learn to accept it as your co-traveller.  There’s a young friend, however, who draws out words from me occasionally.  During one of the long conversations I had with this friend, I asked, “What is there in common between you and me that holds us together?”  Pat came the reply, “Insanity.”

I was both amused and consoled.  The young friend is aware of the vampire within us.  I realised with much amusement that exorcism does not drive out the inner vampire.  The vampire is me.  I’m sucking my own blood.  I have no escape from it.  I cannot escape from myself.  I can only keep the vampire on leashes made of such diaphanous things as thoughts and words. 




PS. Written for Indispire Edition 196: #theperfectme

Note on the pictures: The top one is from my backyard and the bottom one is from Nisargadhama forest in Kodagu.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sex and the Indian

Image Courtesy imdb

Hardik Patel’s personal life has been made ‘viral’ by certain holier-than-thou Indians.  If anything, it underscores the hypocrisy that accompanies the Indian mindset like a holy cow.

India is a country that is governed by people with heinous criminal records.  We have no qualms about accepting as our heroes people who are worse swindlers than mafia dons.  Mass murderers are elevated to the stature of gods and temples are constructed for them.  But when it comes to sex, we have a quaint sense of morality.

Even Nehru has been drawn into the controversy and parallel are drawn between that great personality and Hardik Patel who is yet to prove anything except rabble-rousing skills.  Some BJP leaders even went to the ridiculous extent of posting pictures of Nehru hugging his own sister to show that he was a sex maniac. 

Nehru might have had extramarital affairs.  Extramarital affairs are not justifiable as they pose serious threats to family bonds and significant relationships.  Nevertheless, they are not criminal acts when they happen between mutually consenting adults.  In the case of Hardik Patel, there is no justification in taking to public his sexual relationships because he is a bachelor and he has every right to choose his sexual relationships within the limits of mutual consent between adults.

Why does India get scandalised by the young man’s dalliance?  Are we nation of voyeurs?  Isn’t it sheer hypocrisy to enjoy watching videos of other people having sex and then accuse them of immorality?  

Indians have this peculiar nature of peeping through keyholes and then pointing fingers at what happens behind them.  The habit is not restricted to sexual activities alone.  Indians enjoy eavesdropping and rumour-mongering.  Indians enjoy tarnishing other people’s reputations.  Indians enjoy belittling others.

The Indian obsession with the neighbour’s peccadilloes is as annoying as the Indian culture of dumping waste of all sorts (including one’s excreta) in public places. 

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 195: #theannoyingindian


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Music of Romance

Fiction

Solomon stared at the message.  It is not often that a message comes traversing twenty years and makes your heart skip a beat.  No, the message was not twenty years old.  He had had no contact whatever with the sender of that message for twenty years.  In those days, twenty years ago, she was a symphony that flowed through his veins.

“You made me pass English.  Remember the guidebook you gave me?  And the tricks you suggested?  I passed English because of that.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am today.  Thanks.  Sangeeta.”

Solomon read the message again and again.  His heart pulsated faster and faster.  The heartbeats struggled to recreate a familiar symphony from the mounting feeling of nostalgia.

Does she remember only the guidebook and his tricks for passing an exam?  Have you forgotten the math exam in which you showed me some answers so that I passed?  Your roll number just preceded mine and we were sitting on the same bench for the exam. 

He wished he could ask her that.  He wished to ask a lot more things. 

“Why don’t you understand calculus properly so that you don’t have to copy my answers?”  She asked him after that exam.

“Why don’t you teach me?” He asked seriously.  She was good at math.

He learnt differentiation and integration from her.  As she explained the steps he would watch her lips occasionally.  It was a delight to see her lips moving in umpteen directions as she made dy and dx dance on the pages that they filled together.  The dance metamorphosed into a Wagnerian opera that flowed into his being, through his veins. 

Sangeeta, you were the music of my heartbeats.  No, he couldn’t send her that message either though he had typed it out in the Whatsapp rectangle.  

She had never encouraged the overtures he tried to make.  Friendship without romance was her clear stand though she never said anything at all in that regard.  But he knew that she had understood his feelings.  Which woman doesn’t?  But a relationship between a Sangeeta Nair and a Solomon Joseph could not grow into a Wagnerian opera in those days.  So Solomon gratified his romance reading the Songs of Solomon in the Bible.  Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the people.  I delight in her shade and her fruit is sweet to my taste.

Solomon wrote his own songs too. 

Do you know why you are so beloved to me
Even when I know you will never be mine?

The kiss-curl that wafted in the fan’s breeze touching her cheek gently and seductively made him long to be a wisp of hair in that curl.

When love smothers my heart like a burden
You are there without your knowledge holding me tight…

After college they parted ways.  Never to meet again.  Each one knew that they wouldn’t meet again.  Some things don’t need words to be articulated.

“How did you get my number?”  He tapped the message and sent it.

“Met one of our college mates who had your number.  They are planning an alumni meet…”

His heart pounded again.  An alumni meet?  Will I meet her again?

She was married.  Her children were studying in a residential school near the bank where he worked as manager.  The Whatsapp messages came and went briskly. 

“What about your family?” She asked.

When love smothers my heart like a burden
You are there without your knowledge holding me tight…

No, he couldn’t write that to her.  No, love is a Wagnerian opera.  Let it flow through his veins.  Without death.  Without interruption. 

He will meet her at the alumni meet, he decided.  Will he tell her the truth?  No, he shouldn’t.  He can just say that he never wanted to marry so that she won’t guess anything.  That’s part of the Wagnerian opera, isn’t it?











Tuesday, November 14, 2017

End of Capitalism?


Is Capitalism collapsing under its own weight?  German thinker Wolfgang Streeck believes it is.  He has written a book about it: How Will Capitalism End?  I don’t think I’ll read that book because the only review I read says that “it makes for tough reading.”  Though I don’t really mind tough books, economics is not my cup of tea.

Capitalism has weakened many systems that people would like to have.  By nurturing individualism, it has weakened society.  Its cutthroat competition has weakened human cooperation.  By subjugating everything to money and trade, it has weakened human values as well as political systems.  Yes, the trader is more powerful today than the politician, thanks to capitalism.  That’s a situation which the shrewd politician won’t like at least though right now we have the politician and the trader colluding with each other.

Streeck argues that the weakening of social and political systems has generated five systemic disorders: “stagnation, oligarchic redistribution, the plundering of the public domain, corruption and global anarchy.” [Quoted from the book review] In simple words, it means that only a few people are benefitting by capitalism now.  How long will the vast majority continue to tolerate such a system which makes a few individuals richer and richer at the cost of the majority?

Streeck says that as of now the majority of people are managing by inventing survival strategies such as “coping, hoping, doping and shopping.”  Once again, in simple words it means that we manage by hook or by crook to get on, hope that the situation will turn better tomorrow (as our government keeps promising almost every day), take recourse to whisky or drugs for temporary consolation, and drive to the nearest shopping mall trusting in the latest products of happiness foisted on us by relentless TV ads. 

Quite many of us are seeking consolation in religion, I think.  Streeck doesn’t apparently mention that.  Look at the mounting religious beliefs and practices.  Even the cows have become a religious fad – an ominous one at that!  Isn’t religious extremism of the various types we’re witnessing another shrill cry against capitalism and its loud clamours?

Streeck is not very optimistic, however.  He doesn’t see any better alternative in the offing.  After all, alternatives are born only when dominant systems die and rot.  We are yet to get the stench of capitalism’s rot!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Children and Heaven


Jesus bequeathed heaven to children.  “Let little children come to me,” he said, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If he meant the heaven that awaits the faithful after death, that place must be quite vacant.  

Childhood itself is the heaven.  Did Jesus mean that?  I don’t know.  I’d like to think so.  To expect adults to retain childlike innocence is mere wishful thinking.  Even a god cannot afford to be so impractical. 

The child’s innocence is quite ruthless.  A four year-old boy was waiting for his father the other day in my school after classes.  I went and sat near him as I was waiting for my wife who teaches in the same school.  During the innocent, casual conversation I struck with him, the boy stared at my hair and asked, “Why is your hair so white-white?”

“Time has dyed it white,” I said naughtily, “Isn’t it stylish?”

“No,” he said emphatically without a moment’s hesitation.  His body language, a vigorous shirk of the shoulders and the nod of the head with closed eyes, reinforced the emphasis of his protest quite ruthlessly. 

Such brutal honesty is part of what constitutes children’s heaven.  Only a child possesses the honesty to blurt out that the King is naked.

The child will grow up and the heaven will be lost.  The adult world of diplomacy and deceit, jealousy and greed, spite and malice awaits the child.  Inescapably. 

PS. Tomorrow is Children’s Day in India, the birthday of the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.  In one of his letters to his daughter written from the prison, Nehru wrote, “You know sweetheart how I dislike sermonising and doling out good advice.  I have always thought that the best way to find out what is right and what is not right, what should be done and what should not be done, is not by giving a sermon, but by talking and discussing, and out of discussion sometimes a little bit of truth comes out.  I have liked my talks with you and we have discussed many things, but the world is wide and beyond our world lie other wonderful and mysterious worlds.”

Indira Gandhi had a wonderful father.  But Indira too had to grow up into the inevitable adult world.  On this Children’s Day, I wish all children a healthy growing-up into the adult world.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Platonic Love




My Queen,
Walk into my wax palace
And peer into my eyes.
Words will melt away
As the lamps will light themselves
On their pedestals
And the wax won’t melt away.

The bow will play on the taut violin strings,
And a whole orchestra will resonate
In the background, gently, lovingly.
The chalices will fill themselves.
We will drink with our eyes.

The angels of love will blush
Behind the lamps on wax pedestals;
The demons of darkness
Will blink from yonder.

My Queen,
Walk into my wax palace
Where words have no role to play.