Monday, July 30, 2018

Failed Hartal in Kerala

Devotees at Sabarimala
Image from Indian Express

Hartals are usually like festivals in Kerala. People prepare themselves well ahead of the holiday by stocking things needed for personal entertainments on the holiday. Students are happy to get a day off from schools and colleges. Government employees are happy to relax at home instead of in their offices. The political parties that call the hartal are generally magnanimous enough to exempt “essential services like hospitals, newspapers and milk supply” from the imposed strike. No one seems to complain.

In spite of all that the hartal called today in the state by certain right wing groups such as Ram Sena, Hanuman Sena, Ayyappa Dharma Sena and Vishal Vishwakarma Aikya Vedi was a failure. Personally, I was not aware of the presence of these groups in the state. Given the turn of events in the country’s political sphere in the last few years, mushrooming of right wing organisations is not a surprise, however.

These mushroom organisations called for hartal to protest against the Supreme Court’s counsel to open the Sabarimala Temple to women. The presiding deity at Sabarimala, Ayappan, is a bachelor and hence women whose reproductive capacity is active are forbidden from the temple precincts. Since religious matters transcend logic, I wouldn’t dare to question the meaning of such canons. Every religion is better left to its own beliefs and absurdities especially when mutual hatred and suspicion dominate discourses.

The failure of the hartal, however, indicates that the majority of the people in Kerala do not seem to be opposed to the Supreme Court’s counsel. That is a good sign. As time changes, traditions should change too. There was a time when travelling through the forests to the Sabarimala hilltop was dangerous and women would have found it quite an arduous if not hazardous task. The situation today is entirely different. There are no forests, no man-eating tigers, and not much hardship except the mammoth crowds that jostle relentlessly against one another.

Women are likely to find that crowd and the jostle an excruciating experience. Yet if they are ready to endure that for the sake of the heavenly bliss that the temple apparently offers to devotees, should they be deprived of that? But I am no one to answer that question as I mentioned earlier. I shouldn’t perhaps even dare to ask such a question in the current atmosphere of partisan animosity. However, the failure of today’s hartal in my state gives me a renewed hope, a hope that the thinking faculty has not vanished altogether from the state’s people.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Talking of Depression

“A whole society soon metamorphosed into my benefactors. They soon drove me to illicit liquor joints where I sat all alone at a slimy table and drank cheap brandy, peg after peg. The drinks drenched my soul in shame. I felt utterly worthless. I felt unworthy of life. I longed for death.”

That is quoted from my forthcoming book, Autumn Shadows. I experienced a protracted period of depression that lasted a few years in my late thirties. Depression makes you feel totally worthless. Worse, the whole world appeared to exist for the singular purpose of decimating me. I refused to trust anyone.

My experience is that a depressive does not want to talk to anyone. How can he talk when everyone is his perceived enemy? At best, like poet Shelley, he can cry to the wind in the air to lift him like a dead leaf and carry him away to the emptiness in the skies. “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” Shelley lamented to the West Wind.

I used to sit on the parapet wall of a culvert near a graveyard and envy the dead people buried there. Suicidal thoughts overwhelmed me frequently. But the depressive carries on. His longing is not to die but to hide his shame. To hide, not to reveal. Rather, he thinks that too much has been revealed already.

I was convinced that the society around me had caught hold of my shame, shook it out and held it up for the whole world to see. “Then you become less than the shame,” I have written in Autumn Shadows. “You become utterly disgusting.”

What is there now to talk about when everything has already been exhibited by others? No, the depressive doesn’t want to talk. He wants to hide. His soul belongs to the graveyard. He is on the run. To the netherworld. Sinking. Sinking in a state of free fall. He has to hit the bottom. Not with a bang but with a whimper. Inaudible whimper.

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 232: Why is talking about depression still a stigma in our society? #depression

No, Ms Arora (the one who raised the above question at the blogger’s community), talking about depression is not a stigma, I think. The depressive is the stigma. He thinks so at least. So he won’t talk. That has been my experience.

PPS. My experience has helped me counsel a few other individuals who passed through the hell called depression. What I did was to use cognitive behavioural therapy one of whose fundamental assumptions is that depression is rooted in cognitive distortions. I assist the depressive to look at his or her distortions like ‘I’m good for nothing’ or ‘The world around me is conspiring against me.’ It requires a lot of patient efforts to bring a depressive back to healthy attitudes. Spring will follow winter, as Shelley concluded his Ode to the West Wind. But the snow takes its own horrendous time to thaw.

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Humayun’s Last Cough

According to Rajasthan BJP President Madan Lal Saini, Humayun was the father of Babur. "When Humayun was dying, he called Babur and told him - if you want to rule Hindustan, you must keep three things in mind: respect cows, Brahmins and women," said Mr Saini. What follows is a spoof of the history according to BJP.

Humayun, Babur and other Emperors

While Humayun was imparting his dying wisdom to his son Babur, Bal Narender rambled in with a platter of ladoos specially prepared by his father who was a royal chef brought to the Palace after Babur had enjoyed an exotic dinner at the Taj Hotel where Papa Narender was the chief chef.

“I have graduated from the Jio Institute of Eminence,” said the ten year-old Bal Narender. Babur was particularly fond of Bal Narender and hence the boy was granted many liberties in the Palace. 

Bal Narender was a child prodigy and what he heard as he came in caught his attention.

“If you want to rule Hindustan, you must keep three things in mind: respect cows, Brahmins and women.” Humayun was telling his son Babur. Devotion for the cow welled up in little Narender’s fervent soul. Reverence for women made him take a solemn oath of celibacy. But Brahminhood? How could one achieve that?

“Brahminhood can be achieved by karma, my boy,” said dying Humayun. “Do your karma such that you will become a Brahmin.” Humayun patted the head of Bal Narender and the boy was filled with divine grace. He added one more oath to the solemn occasion: “I am a Brahmin from this moment.”

“We should extend our empire far and wide,” declared the neo-Brahmin Narender. “Let the empire stretch from the plateaus and deserts of Afghanistan to the oceans in southern cape.”

Babur looked at the boy with amazement. Will this fellow usurp me and ensconce himself on the Peacock Throne? Babur wondered. Humayun coughed twice and Babur took the hint.

“That won’t be easy. You know those Dravidians there? They won’t ever accept defeat. They will rather swallow cyanide,” said Babur. “And those Malayalis? They can never be defeated because they will pretend that they are not defeated even if they are defeated. They will mimic our dress and manners and get one up on them. They will add coconut grated, coconut milk and coconut oil to our butter chicken and make it their own.”

Bal Narender laughed. “There is no people who cannot be conquered with the help of the gods. We have 33 million gods plus gaumata whom I will unleash on the people. People will fight among themselves for their own beloved gods and we will rule over them easily.”

Humayun coughed again. That was his last cough.

Babur rushed to the Peacock Throne before Bal Narender could move. But Bal Narender’s thoughts had gone in another direction: how to add twists to the dead history?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Whenever I think of travel, Tennyson’s Ulysses will spring to my mind. “Much have I seen and know – cities of men / And manners, climates, councils, governments,” says Ulysses. That’s just what travel does: make us see and know cities, manners, climates, etc.

I loved travels. My years in Delhi were filled with much travel. I accompanied students on the annual educational tours and treks and during holidays my wife and I visited quite a few places like Darjeelinng, Gangtok and Shimla. I enjoyed both kinds of travels: with students and with my wife.

Travel broadens our perspectives by opening our eyes and souls to new realities. Though I was very much aware of the Gorkhaland struggle in Darjeeling even before I visited the place, the visit filled me with sympathy for the Gorkhas. I listened to their views and watched their hardships. I wondered why political leaders failed to understand their people’s woes and find relevant solutions. Why should the genuine aspirations of thousands of people go ignored for decades particularly in a democracy?

The answer to that question will provide a clue to why I stopped travelling in the last few years. In the current political situation in India, travelling is quite unsafe. Far from broadening your mind and ennobling your soul, your travel may get you eliminated physically from the face of the earth.

Mob lynching has become a national pastime in India. In the recent incident of lynching which happened in Mewat (Rajasthan), the people who killed a man for taking home the milch cows he had bought boasted that they had the support of their MLA. Brutal murders are sponsored by various governments in India today.

You can be killed for taking your cow home. You can be killed if you are seen with a child; you will be labelled as a child-lifter. You can be killed for walking with your wife or daughter in a park; there is the ubiquitous moral police lying in ambush behind the bushes in the park.

India’s Prime Minister is travelling all the time though the travels do not seem to broaden his mind or ennoble his soul a bit. Right now he is in Rwanda with a gift of 200 cows. Cows can travel safely in India and may even go abroad with no lesser a personality than the Prime Minister himself.

When will India be once again a country where people will be free to travel without fear?

Let me wind up with some nostalgia from my travels in strange lands when there was nothing to be afraid of.
Can i dare to pose like that today?
Can I dare to make friends with a child today?
PS. Written for in(di)spire Edition 231: #Travel

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Company in Hell


Sardines were hardly my choice at any time in my life. When Maggie suggested yesterday to buy sardines, I was a little taken aback.

“The price has gone up to Rs200 a kg,” she said.

“That’s a record price for sardines,” I said with genuine surprise. Sardines were considered the poor man’s fish because they were the cheapest in the market usually. Prices of anything hitting the ceiling is not news in contemporary India. Except human beings, everything seems to have become very dear. This is the achhe din promised by our Prime Minister who asked us to eat pakodas as Marie-Antoinette asked the French people to eat cake when they cried that they had no bread.

Pakodas are okay for snacks. You can’t eat them all the time even if you can afford to have the best chefs from the Taj Group to cook for you like our Prime Minister has when he goes abroad. So I decided to play along and make my wife happy. When sardines cost as much as what you used to pay for pomfret until recently, they become particularly savoury.

As soon as we reached home Kittu, our cat, started licking Maggie’s feet because he smelled something fishy. Ever since Kittu entered our life three months ago, our diet had undergone a revolutionary change with chicken usurping the erstwhile vegetarian predominance. Kittu ended up eating most of the chicken, however. I delivered a number of sermons to him on the merits and superiority of vegetarianism, even going to the extent of suggesting that a vegetarian diet would give him certain cultural hegemony in the present political dispensation. He said “meow” with utmost contempt. I pitied him for his political incorrectness.

It was the first time that Kittu smelled sardines in our house. He refused to leave Maggie until she gave him one of them raw. He devoured it greedily as if he had been starving all his life. He ate more sardines as soon as they were cooked. In fact, some parts of the sardines were cooked specially for him and he relished them. His greed scandalised me.

“This fellow is hell-bent on joining me in Hell,” I mumbled before delivering another sermon to him. “Do you know that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Unless you control your greed for sardines, your soul will be condemned to eternal perdition. When your creator comes in his glory on the day of the ultimate judgment, you will be on his left side. And he will tell you, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Kittu stared at me and uttered “meow” whose contempt was all too obvious. “Okay, I don’t mind company in Hell,” I said as I gave him another sardine.

Friday, July 20, 2018



The day Elizabeth retired from job she placed a demand: “Let’s go on a pilgrimage.”

“Why not?” said Paulo, her husband, who had retired half a decade earlier. When he retired as a banker, Liz wanted to retire too.

“Anyway, my job doesn’t pay much,” she said. She was a teacher in a CBSE school.

“It’s not the pay, darling,” he told her. “It’s about how we spend the time. Life will be terribly boring without work to do.” So she continued to work till the ripe age of 60.

The two of them were alone at home. Their son had chosen to settle down in Canada with a Pakistani wife, after completing his graduation in mechanical engineering. Their daughter married one Sharma who lived in Fiji after falling in love with him on Facebook. “When children grow up and become adults, they should be granted the liberty to choose their destiny,” Paulo told his wife as their son and then daughter moved out of their life almost entirely.

“We’ll go to Ponmala for our pilgrimage,” said Paulo when Liz expressed her desire.

“Where’s that?” she asked.

“In the Sahyadris. Hardly anyone goes there. Legends have it that Saint Thomas lived for a short while there. We’ll have to do a little bit of trekking to reach the place.”

Liz was not pleased with the idea of trekking. But the idea of walking with her husband through a forest trail sounded romantic and with a little persuasion from her loving husband she complied quite readily.

That is how they came to stand admiring the Anamudi Peak from the plateau of Ponmala. “That’s the highest peak in our state,” said Paulo.

“Quite a bare place, just a mass of rock,” said Liz who was not particularly enchanted. “But I wish I could climb that,” she added.

“It’s not impossible. There are trekking paths. Do you wish to go?” Paulo asked knowing that she wouldn’t undertake the hardship.

“Why are you here?” Both Paulo and Liz were stupefied by the strange voice behind them. They turned to see a man with long grey hair and an equally long grey beard. He wore a black dhoti and a black shirt. His eyes were fixed on them, moving rather rapidly from one to the other.

“We are pilgrims,” said Paulo. He explained that they had visited Ponmala and had walked ahead a little to enjoy the delights of the forest.

“Go back, that’s better.” The man said rather peremptorily.

“Why?” asked Paulo who was not used to taking orders from strangers even if they looked like sages.

“You are husband and wife, aren’t you?” The man asked.

“Yes,” Paulo said.

“Do you love each other a lot?”

“Of course,” said Paulo remembering how the people of their village used to say that they were the ideal couple, a couple that never had a quarrel in all of their long married life, a couple that was the envy of other couples in the village.

“Has any one of you ever been unfaithful to the other?”

“You mean adultery?” Paulo asked with a smirk.

“Not necessarily,” the man said ignoring the smirk. “Infidelity can be in thought or word. For example, you may have shared something about your spouse to a friend, something that you never dared to tell the spouse himself or herself. That’s just an example, of course.”

“Well, what if we did?”

“Don’t go ahead then. Not this way. Many spouses have gone ahead, never to come back, unless they were absolutely faithful to each other, which is not quite likely.”

Paulo laughed gently. “Then we should definitely go, if only to belong to a rare community of absolute fidelity.”

“Don’t joke about it,” the man warned. “Look at your wife.”

It was then that Paulo looked at Liz for the first time ever since the stranger had started talking to them. She looked pale.

“Liz, are you all right?” Paulo hugged her with one hand.

“Er… I’m not feeling all too well, Paul.” She never liked the name Paulo and always called him Paul. “Let’s go back.”

Paulo looked at the stranger. Did he smirk? Before Paulo could make out the expression on his face, the stranger turned and walked away into the woods.

Paulo looked at the Anamudi Peak. A cloud was descending on it with a delicate caress. It was a black cloud.

“It might rain soon,” he said. “Let’s go back.”

“Yes, let us, quickly,” said Liz.

“Why would Saint Thomas ever come to a place like this?” Paulo wondered as they walked back through the forest.

Liz did not say anything. She never liked her husband’s usual scepticism and occasional sarcasm about religious matters.

“Probably, he never came here. Much of what we believe may be terrifyingly wrong after all.” He hugged his wife once again and they walked together, close to each other.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Truth and Faith in the age of Facebook and Whatsapp

Retaining respect for people is a tough job, especially in the age of Facebook and Whatsapp. Just a few minutes back I came across two Facebook status updates from two of my acquaintances and I found it impossible to suppress contempt. One was from a Christian who maintained that there was no truth other than what his religion taught. The other was from a Hindu who asserted that whatever the Judiciary might decide, no woman from his family between the age of 10 and 50 would ever visit the Sabarimala temple.

While arrogation of truth to itself is one of Christianity’s congenital diseases, the Sabarimala issue came up now because the Supreme Court recently defended all women’s right to pray in that temple which has hitherto prohibited entry to menstruating women. Both my acquaintances are ‘true’ believers in their respective religion. Their faith is staunch. It is blind.

Such blindness is becoming a serious problem in today’s India. There are millions of Indians who have suddenly discovered that their faith is the only right faith, their truths are the only possible truths, and so on.

I have no problem if any person wants to worship a potato as his god and creates a religion called, say, Potatoism. He can believe that the potato is the ultimate truth, the redeemer of mankind, the paragon of delicacy, or whatever. He can worship it five times a day. He can make it his only food. He can construct temples for the potato. He may do whatever he wishes. But when he insists on my accepting all that credo as mine too, there will certainly be a problem. Why can’t I be a Tomatoist?

If tomato offers me salvation, who can question its validity? Tomato gives me peace when there is strife all around me. Tomato brings me hope where there is despair. Tomato is my ultimate joy, my truth, the very essence of my life. Well, who can question that as long as I don’t shove my tomato down your throat?

Religious faith should be a personal affair. Religion is merely a way of finding meaning in life. There are other ways such as philosophy, literature, music, work (karma yoga, for instance), and so on. When it comes to life’s meaning, it is nothing if not entirely personal. My thinking, attitudes and experiences all go into the construction of my meaning of life. I gave up religion because I found it absolutely inconsistent with my intellectual faculty. In fact, even my instincts revolt against religion. How can anyone then expect me to find religion to be of any use to me? I’d love to keep myself as far away from religion as possible. My happiness is directly proportional to my distance from religion. Yet I attend certain religious rituals for the sake of harmony in my workplace or other places where I have to survive by sheer necessity. I don’t believe in anything of what I do in such places. I am a hypocrite for the sake of peace and harmony. That hypocrisy is part of my magnanimity.

But shoving the potato down my throat day in and day out is too much of an assault on my magnanimity. Disgust is not a healthy feeling. Save me from that, please.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Terrible Beauty

Photo by Tomichan Matheikal
at Jim Corbett National Park (some years ago)

“A terrible beauty is born,” lamented poet W. B. Yeats when the Irish rebellion against the British in 1916 was suppressed brutally by the Empire. Though Yeats supported the independence movement, like all enlightened souls he was against violence. When the fighters insisted on using violence, Yeats could only pass by “with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words.”

Many people including me in Modi’s India find themselves in Yeats’ position: incapacitated by mindless violence and hatred. In spite of the totally vitiated atmosphere, a formidably sizeable section of the country seem to be labouring under a monstrous delusion that they are living in a beautiful period of the country’s history. It is a terrible beauty indeed!

Someone like Shashi Tharoor cannot even express his opinion by making a metaphorical comparison about that terrible beauty. His office was attacked a criminal case was charged against him. Yet what he said is the obvious truth. Mercifully, he has refused to backtrack. I hope he continues to be brave to the end of this black drama that is unfolding in the country with more sound and fury than any normal citizen can endure without taking recourse to poetry and metaphors.

A genuine sage like Swami Agnivesh is attacked, beaten and kicked by some self-appointed guardians of the nation’s ethos. Swami Agnivesh has always been a voice of sanity. He has advocated fraternity and compassion. “We must liberate people from religion,” he has rightly said again and again. The assault on him by religious people vindicate his stand vis-à-vis religion.

The institutions run by the Missionaries of Charity are being raided because an employee of theirs committed a crime. The motive behind the raids is too obvious: tarnish the image of a particular minority community and make them the targets of the kind of assault that Swami Agnivesh suffered and Shashi Tharoor would have suffered had he been available on the street ruled by thugs donning the garb of nationalists.

 Amnesty International reports that in the last six months alone 100 hate crimes have been committed against Dalits, adivasis and minority communities in the country. Uttar Pradesh with a Yogi as its Chief Minister leads the list while the Prime Minister’s own state of Gujarat follows close behind. There undoubtedly is a clear game plan: elimination of certain sections of the country’s population by hook or by crook.

And then the terrible beauty will be born, perhaps: the beauty of a homogenised nation much like the Hindu Pakistan that Shashi Tharoor mentioned. In the meanwhile, I would have liked to pass “with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words.” I tried, in fact. But my neurons rage within me. There is a man within me who refuses to buckle under the monstrous stupidity that is being peddled as nationalism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

My Lime Tree

My lime tree

Lime has multiple uses. You can make a rejuvenating drink with a little bit of its juice. A few drops of the juice can flavour your tea delightfully and ease your belly too. Even the otherwise bland dishes or the daal curry can undergo a miraculous metamorphosis with a touch of lime. You can use a slice of the fruit to deodorise your plate or your hands.

   When the hybrid plant seller came last year with a variety of saplings, I picked up a few including a lime. The lime was a little slow to get to like me. I watered it regularly and fed it with liberal scoops of cow dung and occasional pinches of Ammonium Phosphate Sulphate.

   “Hybrid plants take their sweet time to get used to new soil and environment,” my friend consoled me. “But once they do, they flourish.”

   He was right. After months of my patient waiting and tender care, my lime tree began to grow. But the main stem grew up aslant at an angle of 45o. It looked nice to see but I was worried it wouldn’t grow much that way though it was bearing an occasional fruit.
A fruit on my little lime
   “It’s because of the shade,” said my friend. “It’s seeking direct sunlight.”

   That’s one thing about plants: they hate to stand in somebody else’s shadow and seek their own place in the light. “Let’s clear that shade,” I told my friend. The trees that produced the shade were in the wrong place anyway. So we felled them. What did the lime do then?

   Instead of straightening up, it sprouted a number of new shoots all of which began to grow straight up giving the lime an entirely new elegant look. I stand beside that little tree almost every evening admiring its exotic beauty.
My strawberry guava
   By the side of the lime, I had also planted a strawberry guava at the same time. The guava grew up normally without seeking angles because it was getting all the sun it needed. But it has shown no sign of bearing any fruit yet. A few days back some red ants appeared on it. Red ants are the ideal natural pesticides. They eat up pests. Today I saw the ants make their home among the guava leaves. I gave myself the hope that the ants are foresighted: they must have seen the imminent growth of fruits on that little tree, fruits that will invite pests which in turn will become fodder for the ants. Nature has its own marvels. Marvel is a heavenly feeling.
Red ants have gone to sleep in that little nest

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love’s complexion and complexity

Book Review

Anshu Bhojnagarwala’s Tara is a fast-paced novella which deals with the themes of love and self-actualisation. Tara is a scrawny, dark-complexioned creature of just 2.2 kg when she is born. In spite of having affectionate and supportive parents, Tara grows up to inherit a complex about her dark skin, thanks to a society that sets much store by fairness creams. She faces some rejection from individuals whom she tries to befriend. As a young woman, Tara wants to marry and be a mother but is not able to find a suitor, again, due to her complexion. Then she gives up the chase and becomes a teacher.

Himanshu walks into her life as the guardian of a student. Love happens. Tara discovers romance but only to be soon disappointed. Himanshu disappears. Eventually she discovers that he has reached the dream world of London where he forges a new alliance. That is an unnerving rejection for Tara.

Tara is practical enough to get on with life. She agrees to the arranged marriage with Nikhil who turns out to be a good husband. Tia is born to them. Though a facsimile of her mother physically, Tia is confident about herself. The darkness of her complexion doesn’t bother her a bit.

Years later, as menopause catches up with Tara, Himanshu returns. His marriage was not successful. Tara’s heart skips a beat too many. How does she deal with the situation? What does she learn about love as well as herself? That’s the most interesting part of this novella.

Anshu Bhojnagarwala
While the issue of complexion is trivial to those who can think beyond that, it can make life miserable for one who feels insecure about oneself. Why do you feel insecure anyway? What is real beauty? Does the complexion matter at all if you know who you are and what you are capable of? What does love mean actually?

These are some pertinent questions raised and answered by Anshu Bhojnagarwala in this short book. It is a very simple story narrated in a very straightforward style which makes it very easy to read. The questions it raises are relevant and thought-provoking.

Love is not attainable in its ideal form. No one can love unconditionally and in abstraction. Love is an acceptance of the other as he or she is. Even in that acceptance there are many practical considerations. Too much of idealism can kill simple loves though it may generate some kind of universal love that goes out to whole sections of people. Anshu Bhojnagarwala explores these interesting issues in her short but gripping narrative.

The book can be downloaded here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


One of the parents who met me today during the Parent-Teacher Meeting at school told me, “My daughter is your fan. She often wonders how a teacher can be so innocent like you.”

I was too stunned to respond. Just yesterday I mentioned in another class that I was blessed to have such innocent students. My initial fear when I came from Delhi three years ago and perceived such innocent students in my present school in a small town in Kerala was whether I would corrupt them with the craftiness that Delhi had taught me as an integral part of the survival game we played normally in Delhi.

One of the lessons I learnt even before I took up my teaching job in Delhi in 2001 was to stay away from people as far as possible. Shillong taught me that lesson, in fact. That’s the only place where I ventured out into the society at least to some extent. I turned out to be an utter failure. Shillong was my undoing. It was inevitable, perhaps. I needed to learn the lessons that the little hill town taught me in the most rigorous and steadfast ways. There were people in Shillong whose sole mission in life seemed to be to reform me. And they were successful.

Their success was that I learnt to stay clear of society. I withdrew into myself except for the professional encounters I had and still have with my students. I learnt that I was a misfit in society. This gave me a lot of ‘me-time’.

I love spending time alone. I’m in love with the tea which I drink standing in the yard looking at the leaves nodding in the evening’s gossamer breeze. I’m in love with the books that give me company in the me-time that begins with the tea. I love to sit before my laptop and type out my thoughts for anyone who cares to read them.

Today that parent taught me that I have retrieved my innocence. I love that innocence too. I love the students who gifted me that innocence. I love the distance between them and me where the innocence blooms like the gossamer breeze that plays on my leaves and my evening tea.  

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 230: #MeTime

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Friday, July 13, 2018

I support Shashi Tharoor

Sambit Patra is the best comic entertainer in contemporary Indian politics after Narendra Modi. He is like a clown on the trapeze while Modi behaves like the ringmaster. I love both of them for the entertainment they provide to the nation. But they do a lot of disservice to the nation.

Arrey bhai, the people elected you to serve them. Do you know that we are still a democracy? The ultimate power is with the people. They can throw you out next year if you still keep barking and biting like stray dogs. All that religious stuff you’re peddling won’t do any good. What does Ram Mandir or Patel Statue mean to the man on the street who is struggling to earn his daily bread?

Sambit Patra is a joy to watch on the TV when you have nothing else to do. He is the re-avatar of Gau-Swami who shouted at all of us for a long time on sell-out Times Now. Like the Cow-Swami, Sam-bit will get his boot soon. I’ll miss his trapeze art then. Like his demand to the Congress to dismiss Dr Shashi Tharoor for telling unpleasant truths.

Unpleasant truths and religion have seldom gone together unless religion wanted to blackmail the penitent as it is happening now in Kerala with some Christian priests who are being arrested for loving a woman in a way that Jesus would have found too Trump-able.

The priests in Kerala are being arrested. Why are the similar BJP rapists in North India not being arrested? Instead they are giving us lectures on the TV! Arrey Bhaiyon our Bahanon in Cow-States, wake up. You are being deceived lock, stock and barrel. You are being converted into a Hindu Pakistan.

Ram, Ram! I uttered blasphemy! In fact, I’m just quoting Dr Shashi Tharoor, one of the few intelligent and educated and cultured and yet audible politicians we still have in our Lok Sabha. Dear Dr Tharoor, I happened to read quite a lot of things you wrote and I’m convinced that you are blessed with much more than cow dung between your ears. Please continue to speak and write in spite of the cow-shit faithful.

Faith has vanished from the world. We live with WhatsApp and FaceBook. And a few idiots like me still put their faith in the evolved faculty called brain. You possess that, Dr Tharoor. Do bear with India and make it India. Not a Hindu Pakistan. Let Modi have his world tours for one more year. Let Sam-bit have his insane glory on the TV too for the same period. After that, let India have some sensible people to rule it. If you can, please rise, rise like the proverbial phoenix. We are ready to accept the kind of Hinduism that you presented in your latest book. Go ahead, make India a Hindu nation if you want it. I will fight for you, die for you – at least, vote for you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Beauty and Youth

Beauty is young - always!

One of my favourite writers, Franz Kafka, said that the young people are happy because they have the ability to see beauty. “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old,” he added.

I was always an admirer of beauty. The only problem was that some self-appointed custodians of morality, during my youth, thought that my concept of beauty was too gynocentric and hence sinful. Like most members of their species, these custodians were very religious people. Moreover, in my case, they happened to be all Christians.

Woman is a perversion, according to Christian theology. She was the cause of mankind’s eviction from the biblical Paradise. Even centuries could not wash away her guilt and so Saint Paul would advise Timothy (2:12) never to let a woman teach or have authority over a man. “She must be silent.” Nothing less.

My admiration of feminine beauty was associated with my own perversions by the moralists in my life. I don’t deny that I had a fair share of perversions though I always thought that my aesthetics was a natural principle. If a young man is not drawn to the charms of a beautiful young woman, he should be checked for perversion.

Well, I outgrew that aesthetics as time passed. That’s also a natural principle, I think. When it comes to nature, however, you can never be too sure. The fearfully symmetrical tiger of William Blake brutally assaulting a graceful gazelle whose twin fawns find their biblical analogy in the breasts of the wise Solomon’s beloved is also obeying a natural principle. I was no tiger anyway and kept my aesthetics to myself. I didn’t even dare to write poems like Solomon about female organs more innocuous than breasts.

I was more fond of smiles, in fact. Today, as a man in the autumn of his life, having seen plenty of life’s seductions and addictions, I still remain a lover of smiles. If you have seen smiles that come genuinely from the heart, you’ll understand my aesthetics easily.

Of course, I admire all other forms of beauty too. I love flowers, for example, though they become metaphors for evanescence in the Bible. Prophet Isiah, for instance, compared the littleness of his people’s faith to “the flowers of the field.” I love rivers and mountains, literature and philosophy, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I love all things beautiful.

Beauty has a heavenly grace. It refreshes our souls as nothing else can if only we learn to let it do its job. I would dare to paraphrase a verse from the Rig-Veda: “Let beauty come to us from every side.”  (1-89-i)

You will remain forever young if you let that happen to you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Religion and Cruelty

Pillar in Vellore Fort commemorating the Revolt
Image from Wikipedia

Today is the anniversary of the Vellore Mutiny which took place on 10 July 1806 when the Indian soldiers (sepoys) revolted against the East India Company for imposing certain rules that the Hindus as well as Muslims did not like. The Hindus were prohibited from wearing religious marks on their foreheads and Muslims were required to shave their beards and trim their moustaches. The turban was replaced with a hat which the soldiers identified with Christianity.

The soldiers would certainly have looked smart and trim with the changes, which indeed was the purpose. But religion, like popular condoms, is extra-sensitive, and tickles too many tissues and issues. Half a century later, a bigger revolt of the same nature would be triggered by very similar reasons in Meerut.

Mindless violence followed the revolt in Vellore. The rebels killed 14 of their own officers and 115 men of their regiment. The revolt was soon suppressed and the rebels were punished ruthlessly.

One of the many punishments meted out to the mutineers was blowing away from guns. The culprit was tied to the mouth of a cannon which was then fired so that the culprit’s body would be shattered to smithereens. The ulterior intention was to preclude religious funeral rites. It was a terrible punishment for religious believers, a punishment that went beyond death.

Religion has been a cause of much brutality throughout history directly or indirectly. While it is understandable that people would not accept the defilement of whatever they hold as sacred, what remains beyond my comprehension is how something like religion which is supposed to make people compassionate actually makes them monstrously cruel.

Of course, the East India Company was not bothered about religion. They wanted power. And servile discipline. The Company was prompt to punish their own officers responsible for the offensive dress regulations. All the senior British officers involved were recalled to England. The Company even refused to pay John Craddock, the Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, his passage expenditure as he was sent back to his country. The offensive rules were revoked.

But why did the Company have to be so brutal in the punishments given to the Indians? I think it was not merely about making the punishments “exemplary” for potential rebels. I think religion makes people more inhuman than any other entity. Would the punishment have been less severe if religion was not involved?

Arguably religion has been the largest killer in human history; at least, the largest perpetrator of violence and cruelty.

We witness religious violence even today in the country. It takes the forms of lynching, raping, and plain shooting. Some of our leaders are openly supporting such acts of violence too. The otherwise loquacious Prime Minister has not condemned such acts of violence or chastised his ministers who support them. Religion lends legality to such acts of violence!

Religion and violence. Their harmonious coexistence is a contradiction that has baffled me time and again. It is one of the things that makes me detest religion. I know I can do nothing about it: except stay as far away from it as possible.

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...