Friday, November 30, 2018

Kittu and I

Kittu thinks he deserves the best.


“Owners of dogs will have noticed that if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.” I came across those words of Christopher Hitchens purely by coincidence and the very next thing I did was to search more about Hitchens. The titles of his books like God is not Great and The Portable Atheist found me logging on to Amazon India to search whether the books are available.

Someone who makes that profound observation about cats and dogs has a heart in addition to a brain and hence tends to be worth reading. I know enough about cats and dogs now to stake that claim. My brother’s dogs love me more than my own cat.

Kittu, my cat, was abandoned by someone at my doorstep when he was just old enough to walk on his own. He chose to walk into my heart with a grace and stealth which was so feminine that I assumed that it was a female cat. When a friend of mine heard me refer to the cat as ‘she’ he drew my attention to its nascent scrotum and said, “Better. Otherwise you’ll have too many cats too soon.”
 
The best is relative, of course.
My friend doesn’t like cats because he says they are heartless creatures. “When this fellow finds a better place he’ll desert you, however much you love him,” my friend warned me.

“Genuine love doesn’t seek reciprocation,” I consoled Maggie philosophically when Kittu began to play hide and seek with us soon after his scrotum bulged fully.
  
Even Maggie's kitchen can put him to sleep!
Both Maggie and I are away from home for about 8 hours every day and Kittu is left outside with ample food to eat and a lot of open space to wander about. He used to be there in a yogic sushupti on one of the chairs on my front veranda when Maggie and I returned from school in the evening. As soon as our car turned into the home driveway, he would get up, stretch himself like a yogi doing the Surya namaskar, and walk towards the car porch. He would accompany me, caressing himself against my leg as I walked, enter the room even before I did and utter an imperial meow that would send me grabbing at the packet of Whiskas, his exclusive food.  He would share my tea a little later or wait for Maggie to prepare milk for him.

Soon he would be in the garden envying the weeds that consumed all my attention. In short, he was there where I was or Maggie was. That’s not the case nowadays, however. My friend turned out to be right. Kittu goes missing every now and then especially in the evenings.

The other day Maggie scrambled an egg when she was in a mood to pamper Kittu. He loves eggs scrambled without any ingredients, not even the common salt. When he ate half of the thing, he heard some sound from a distance. He stopped eating and started running. Maggie called him back but he did not care two hoots for her.

Later I learnt that the sound was of a female cat. Rather I learnt that there was a female cat in the neighbourhood.
 
That's his favourite place outside home.
“Didn’t Jesus say that when a person grows up into adulthood he or she will leave her parents and live with his or her partner? Kittu has grown up.”

Kittu has nearly converted our house into a langar where he drops in whenever he is hungry. His Whiskas, fish, milk, eggs, etc wait for him as always. Kittu has taught me that genuine love need not always be reciprocated. Especially when a god – I mean, cat –  is concerned!

PS. I notice that all the pics I've posted are of Kittu sleeping. But never mistake, dear reader, he's awake most of the time. He doesn't pose for me, however. 

Who moved my Parathas?

Towards the end of Sawan [my Delhi school]


I love to try varieties of food though I am not a glutton. Not a gourmet, either. A philanderer with food, if you like. I can relish Khasi tribal foods as heartily as Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was a sheer pragmatic need that taught me to love whatever the man on the next table ate.

Rather, woman, I should say. My experiments with food started when I was working as a teacher in a high school at a place called Jaiaw on the outskirts of Shillong. Jaiaw is just a kilometre, as the crow flies, from the main market (Bara Bazar) of Shillong. But it had no pretensions to being anywhere near the capital of the state. Jaiaw was like a small junction in a village for all the eight years I worked there. Nothing ever changed: the same narrow streets, the same houses on either side of them, the same small shops. There was just one small Khasi restaurant which looked more like a shed than a tea shop. I had my lunch there every day for quite some time along with a few other colleagues from school who were all women since I was the only male member in the whole girl’s school in those days. Those affable Khasi ladies introduced me to the flavours and savours of Khasi cuisine.

It wasn’t at all easy in the beginning to get to like that bland food. The Khasis hardly used spices. Eventually I got used to the food which was more like boiled vegetables and boiled meat. A time came when I didn’t even mind trying doh-jem (intestines) and doh-khlieh (tongue and brain) though my instincts didn’t permit me to go too far with these.

When Maggie entered my life traditional Kerala food returned. She doesn’t like to experiment much with food. Even when she ventures to experiment, the frontiers are clear: ends at Thiruvananthapuram in the south and Kasargod in the north. But she has lived with me in Shillong and Delhi for many years.

Delhi brought me in touch with the typical North Indian foods. The school where I worked for 14 years offered us free food in the dining hall along with the students. On all working days I shared breakfast and lunch with the boys (yeah, it was a boy’s school unlike the Shillong counterpart). I immediately fell in love with the pure vegetarian North Indian food. I loved those parathas and chapattis and the infinite variety of dishes made of potato with umpteen combinations. I loved the ubiquitous leafy vegetables [and there was an endless variety of them which I now miss in Kerala] as much as the occasional Shahi Paneer.

When I travel, I would like to try the local varieties of food just to understand the flavours of the culture. Maybe, there’s something very lovely and loveable in those cultures. The truth is that I miss North Indian food now.

PS. Inspired by: In[di]spire

PPS. I have taken a personal look at the cue but the answer to the question is implied in the post though subtly.


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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Take a walk with me...



Take a walk with me on these dusty lanes and be gracious enough to listen to the perverted music of my heartbeats. Perverted, yes, that’s how it has been described by many people for years and I have learnt to accept that description just because I’ve understood that I don’t belong to these lanes. But have you ever noticed that those who claim that they are evil are usually no worse than you? Has it ever occurred to you that most evils are perpetrated by people who claim to be good?

Look at all those people who carry guns in hands and venom in hearts and persuade us to believe that they plunder and rape and kill for the sake of the greater common good. They have been doing it for centuries. It might have been the bow and the arrow instead of the gun in those good old days. It might have been the burning stakes or the gleaming swords.

This evening when our shadows rise to meet us, you see terror in a handful of dust lying on this very same lane that we walk on. The lane has seen much, endured much, and longed to weep much.

Listen. Listen to the sorrow of the dust. It is trying to tell us something. Is it trying to tell us that the world is a dangerous place not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it?

Is there room for hope anymore? From the time of the Buddha who placed one good deed above a thousand hollow words, through the man who died on the cross hoping to redeem humanity from ritualistic creeds, to the Mahatma who was shot dead by the hate-filled fanatic, haven’t we seen enough of hope?

Ah, it’s getting dark and we need to return to the safety of our homes. The lanes are dangerous. Let us keep hoping that light will descend on them some time.

PS. Written for



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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Edakkal Caves



“Those with heart problems should not climb,” warns a signboard at the threshold of the ascent to the Edakkal Caves in Wayanadu district of Kerala. My students whom I was accompanying pointed out the board to me. “My heart is good,” I told them.

There are quite a few places on the way that try your heart’s strength. The climb is quite steep in those places. I did not pant a bit, however. “What is the secret of your health, sir?” asked one of the students who was struggling for breath. “My heart is good,” I answered.

The half-hour ascent ends in a cave with quite a few charming slits in rocks, crevices that let in sunbeams that light up the cave delightfully. The history of the cave goes back to eight millennia, the official tourist guide there told us pointing at the pictorial writings on one of the granite walls. Some of the drawings have possible links with the Indus Valley Civilisation, says the guide. Later I checked Wikipedia which says:

The caves contain drawings that range over periods from the Neolithic as early as 5,000 BC to 1,000 BCE. The youngest group of paintings have been in the news for a possible connection to the Indus Valley Civilization.

It was sheer delight to climb that ascent and be there in that cave which is technically not a cave but a “cleft, rift or rock shelter” [Wikipedia]. I wished I could spend more time there. But the law permits only 5 minutes because only 30 visitors are allowed at a time and people keep waiting eagerly for their turn. My own group consisted of 70 members. I suppressed my desire and turned back hoping to come again for another climb after looking at the cardiac warning at the threshold.

In the meanwhile, here are some pictures from this visit. I hope my students will forgive me for bringing them here in this space. 

The first steps

 
A lot of stairways ahead


A view on the way

One of the crevices

The Cavern: the inscriptions are on the right wall

One of the fissures right on top of the Cavern

One of the students asked why I was not taking any of my own pic. So here it is. 


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Monday, November 19, 2018

This too will pass?

The village where I live now


I have passed through hells. Some of them were creations of my own immaturity and other personal drawbacks and quite many were generously awarded by people who decided that I deserved them. Religious people are particularly adept at creating hells for others who they regard as sinners.

There were times when I thought that life was an endless pain. There were moments when I longed to put an end to it. I wished to hide myself in some fathomless cave on a wild mountain. A few individuals, hardly one or two, were kind enough to counsel me in those times: “This too will pass.”

I was not at all certain that it would pass. On the contrary, I accepted my definition of life as an endless pain with certain Buddhist resignation and acquired stoicism.  When I left my lecturer’s job in Shillong at the age of 41, in utter despair and apparent disrepair, I had no hope of a bright future ahead. It was a risk that I decided to take before putting an end to everything altogether. The risk turned out to be worth it.

Delhi offered me just the kind of life I had dreamt of: a residential school with sylvan surroundings and cosy staff quarters. That is the institution where I worked for the longest period: 14 years. I would have retired from there had the school not been shut down by a religious cult which emerged like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I can understand the evil motives of cults and organisations, however noble they may look like from the outside. But what really shocked me was the duplicity of some of those religious people who pretended to be the noblest of souls while they carried a legion of demons within. I tried to convince myself that “this too would pass.” But I was wrong. I passed instead. I moved out of the institution just like all the others who worked or studied there.

Some things pass and some don’t. Some pain is inevitable in life. Some lessons are learnt only through immense pains. In the end, those lessons are what really matter.

 PS. Written for Indispire Edition 248: #ThisTooWillPass



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Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Frog and the Nightingale



Bingle Bog became silent instantly. All the animals and birds were stunned into silence by a strange music. They were all used to the croaking of the bullfrog so far. The frog croaked away day and night and called it ‘The Voice of the Heart’. The frog considered himself the King of the Bog.

It was then that the nightingale appeared on the banyan tree and started singing. The nightingale soon became a sensation in the Bog. All the animals and birds gravitated towards the banyan tree to listen to the nightingale’s songs.

“You sing quite well, you know,” the Frog said to the Nightingale when the singing stopped.

“Oh, thank you so much,” said the Nightingale. “It’s so kind of you.”

“You know me?” Frog was a little surprised in spite of himself. He had come wearing his latest suit gifted by a bhakt. His name was embossed in gold on the coat.

“Oh, who doesn’t know you ji?” Nightingale said without concealing her admiration. “You are the great king of this Bog, the hero of heroes, the champion of champions, the warrior of warriors, the guardian of the Bog’s culture and tradition, the defender of its gods and totems...”

“I am also a connoisseur of music, you know.”

“Oh! Yet you say I sing well. I’m flattered ji. Thank you, thank you.”

“But your music lacks focus, you know. Without focus, music has no strength.”

Soon Frog became Nightingale’s instructor. Frog issued tickets to those who wished to listen to Nightingale. The price of the tickets went higher and higher day by day because of GST and Cess and Toll and whatever else that Frog chose to call it. “It is all for your future welfare,” Frog told the Bogians through his Voice of the Heart. The Bogians had immense faith in their king.

Nightingale sang different tunes under Frog’s instruction. Tunes with focus. But the Bogians began to lose interest in the new songs. They began to grumble on Facebook and WhatsApp and other social media.

Frog shouted at Nightingale. “You lousy bird! Your focus! Your focus!”

Frog taught Nightingale to focus. Day and night, Nightingale went through the yogic practices given by Frog. Day and night. Week after week.

Nightingale lost her voice finally. Lost her life.

She died.

‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ posters emerged soon all over the Bog.

The Bogians once again got used to posters and slogans and Frog’s croaks.

PS. Inspired by Vikram Seth’s poem The Frog and the Nightingale.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Prakash Resigns


Fiction

This time Prakash Pande’s resignation was final. The metro train that rolled by parallel to his office on the second floor of a monstrous building in ITO was witness to it.

“Are you sure you aren’t making a mistake?” His boss, Obhijit Choudhary, asked. He had asked the same question a couple of months back when Prakash had tendered his resignation saying that he couldn’t report lie after lie anymore.

“See, Pande,” the Editor-in-Chief Choudhary advised him then, “your resignation is going to make no difference to the policies of the India Chronicle, let alone stir any fat asshole on Parliament Street to make the faintest of a fart. We are sold, man, lock, stock, and barrel.”

Obhijit da counselled Prakash to stay on and understand the system thoroughly so that later when he got the chance he could write a book about it. “You are one of the best journos we have, man,” said Obhijit.

Prakash stayed on. And he went on to foist propaganda in the name of news. Whatever favoured the ruling party found space in the news pages. Whatever went against it found place in the dustbin.

Lies became truths. Falsehood became sacred scriptures. The past was rewritten. The future looked ominous.

Forget Kashmir which can now never be saved, thanks to what we did there in the last four years. Forget demonetisation’s monsters. Forget the endless price rises. Forget the fads like renaming places or erecting statues. Now even the farmers are being sold to the corporate bigwigs. The latest is that the private insurance companies are reaping crores and crores in the name of farmers who are actually dying slow deaths. Praksh couldn’t take it anymore.

“What are you going to do now?” Obhijit asked picking up Prakash’s resignation letter.

“Taking up vanvas for a year.”

“Banbas?”

“Going to do B.Ed.”

“Then?”

“The classroom is where the revolution should begin.”

Obhijit Choudhary stared at the young man, the promising journalist, before averting his eyes to look at the Delhi Metro train rolling on a few metres away on its elevated tracks.

“I hope you won’t become a Maoist,” the Editor-in-Chief muttered as if to no one.


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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Traditions





Traditions are not sacrosanct. As time changes, as our understanding of the universe improves, as civilization grows, traditions may have to change. Many traditions have changed. For example, we got rid of the tradition of burning the widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Different states in India had various traditional measures to stigmatise the lower caste or untouchable people. Most of these traditions have vanished though some linger on in certain places.

The less there is to justify a tradition, the harder it is to get rid of it, said Mark Twain. Tradition, more often than not, is an excuse to avoid thinking. Human civilisation would have remained in its primitive stages if everyone had remained stuck to traditions.

Good traditions should be preserved, of course. What is good, however? One may argue that whatever is associated with religion is good. Is it? Don’t forget that religious traditions have been responsible for much of the exploitation of certain sections of people. Religions have killed large numbers of people in the name of some tradition or the other. There are communities in India even today which dedicate some of their girl children to prostitution in the name of Devadasi tradition.

What is ‘good’ then when it comes to tradition? Any tradition that promotes the welfare of the individual and the community may be regarded as good provided that does not at the same time prove to be harmful to some other individuals or communities.  Respecting elders even with certain physical gestures has been a good tradition followed in India.

Those traditions which do no good to people in general should be discarded even if they have some religious roots.  Those which promote the welfare of people should be preserved and reinforced. Following traditions blindly just because they are traditions is quite silly. As G.K. Chesterton says, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Why not be alive and kicking?


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Saturday, November 10, 2018

My Sabarimala Visit

With Maggie at Badrinath


Hindu temples used to fascinate me. There is a unique aura of mystery exuded by their very architecture. When I was a little boy I wished to enter the temple premises in my village. But the bold writing on the wall of that temple, “Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter,” kept me out. That writing vanished some time after I actually entered that temple. The curiosity of a little boy was what drew me in one day while I passed by that temple, as I always did, while going for my evening bath in the nearby river. I stood in that dark chamber for hardly a minute when someone whispered in my ear to get out before I would stir up a communal riot in the village.

I visited scores of Hindu temples later in various parts of the country including Badrinath in the Garhwal Himalayas, Kamakhya in Guwahati and Gaumukh in Mount Abu. All those temples fascinated me for reasons which I never tried to analyse. It was a kind of instinctual fascination, I think. It was a similar instinct that made me visit Sabarimala long ago in 1990 or so.

I was sharing a drink with my friend Prasad Nair. “Have you gone to Sabarimala?” I asked him. “Of course,” he said. He had gone as a pilgrim. I told him that I wished to visit Sabarimala as a tourist. “Why not? I’ll take you.” Prasad said.

As simple as that. Neither Prasad nor I was a pilgrim. We got into a bus from Prasad’s hometown, a bus which carried only Sabarimala pilgrims who were invariably called swamis. I had followed Prasad’s advice to wear a dhoti that resembled the swami attire. But neither of us had the irumudikettu which is an inevitable accoutrement of the Sabarimala pilgrim. No one bothered about our lack of irumudikettu as Prasad and I began our ascent from Pamba bus stand to the holy temple.

By the time we reached the temple we looked totally brown with all the dust we gathered along the way like any other traveller. We waited in the kilometre-long queue for ascending the 18 sacred steps. A policeman noticed the absence of irumudikettu on our heads and approached us. “Are you pilgrims?” He asked. “No,” we said. “We are just visitors.”

The policeman told us that we could not ascend the 18 steps since we were only visitors. He showed us another way to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple and we followed the instructions. I stood before the idol of Ayappan with folded arms breathing in the fervour of the pilgrims through every pore in my skin. “Swamiye Saranam Ayappa!” I too murmured involuntarily.

Nobody was bothered by the fact that Prasad and I had no irumudikettu. That we were mere visitors. On the contrary, we were addressed as swamis. Everyone who visited the temple was a swami. The spirit of fraternity was all too palpable. I loved it. Sabarimala remained in my heart as a place that exuded an extraordinary sense of fraternity.

Sadly today it has become a place that radiates animosity. I feel sad. Why have we become like this? I wonder. Why is India such a hate-filled country now?

I won’t ever visit Sabarimala anymore. I know that. That awareness makes me sad.  


At Thirunelli Temple in Kerala [1990s]


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Friday, November 9, 2018

O Woman



One purpose of religions is to keep certain sections of people under subjugation. The easiest way of subjugating people is to give them rules and regulations in the name of their god(s). The caste system in India is an example. Another example is the place of women in society.

All major religions in the world have kept women under male domination. The Bible, for instance, begins with laying on the woman the whole onus for man’s sinfulness. Then came the various ‘fathers’ of the Church to reinforce that male domination with their divine revelations. Saint Paul, for example, was an incorrigible male chauvinist. 

Perhaps, no other religion is as misogynistic as the Catholic Church whose holy Patriarchs have time and again denounced woman as the cause of all human evils. Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophy and theology play a major role even today in the formation houses of Catholic priests, viewed woman as a “defective and misbegotten” creature born out of the defective part of the “man’s seed”. Saint Augustine denounced women as the “cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men” and prohibited women from being “educated or enlightened in any way”. Tertullian described woman as “the gate to hell”. Even Martin Luther, the reformer, was of the opinion that “women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”

All three Semitic religions have similar views of women. Islam has mathematically established gender inequality. The Quran gives each male “the equal of the portion of two females” when it comes to property inheritance. While giving testimony too, two women are required to equal one man. There are places in the holy book where a woman is likened to the man’s land which he may use whichever way he chooses. The woman is nothing more than a piece of property. The only women you’ll find in the Muslim heaven are the virgins kept there for men’s enjoyment; all other women are in hell.

India’s own Hinduism is no better. Right from the Vedas, women remain men’s objects of pleasure. Women were not to be given knowledge, property, rights, etc. The woman has to be under the care of a man all the time: first the father, then husband, son, or relative – in that order of preference or possibility. Widows were always considered an inconvenient burden. They were responsible for the death of their husbands! They were considered inauspicious. They were encouraged to die on the funeral pyre of their husbands. If they chose to outlive their husbands, they were treated on a par with the untouchable people.

Our attitudes are shaped by our upbringing and religion plays a dominant role in that. This is one of the main reasons why women find it difficult to obtain equality in conservative societies. The solution is to alter traditions and certain undesirable aspects of cultures even if they are religious in origin. Changing culture and tradition is always a slow process, almost impossible if religions are involved. But we live in a world which demands such changes. Sooner than later, women will certainly become equal to men.

Gone are the days when men were the producers and women the reproducers. Now women are in the production line. Soon they will be firing the shots. The writing is on the wall if you care to read.  

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 247 #GenderEquity


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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Optimism

A part of the staff quarters demolished partly by RSSB initially and left as such for months just to demoralise the staff


I had a colleague in Delhi who fought two successive cases in the court of justice in order to get his job back. Let me call him Sachin. He won the first case and arrived at a compromise in the second. He went through veritable hells during his fights but never lost his optimism. Yesterday when I posited a question on Facebook whether the Karnataka by-election results were an indication of people’s disillusionment with the BJP, Sachin was one of the first to assert confidently, “Surely not.”

Sachin was a math teacher in the senior secondary section which already had another math teacher. He was brought in because students were unhappy with the existing teacher. It is quite difficult to be a popular math teacher and Sachin too faced an uphill task which eventually became too daunting especially with the uncooperative attitude of the management and a section of the staff. A series of incidents led Sachin into depression and he submitted his resignation letter to the head of academics in frustration.  The very next morning, however, he came to his senses, aided by his family members and some of his perceptive colleagues [among whom I include myself] and applied for the withdrawal of his resignation. There was no technical or legal objection to that withdrawal. However, the head of academics issued him a letter stating that the school had already accepted his resignation and he had to move out immediately. His first court case followed immediately. The court judged in his favour after some four years or so and he had to be taken back by the school.

Soon after that the management of the school changed hands. A religious cult called Radha Soami Stasang Beas [RSSB] took over the school with mala fide intentions. They promised to run the school in a better way than the previous management though none of the staff trusted them. The actions of RSSB justified our suspicions. Soon after taking over the school the new management started dismissing the staff one by one on various pretexts most of which were whimsical or flippant. Sachin was one of the many who lost their job to the religious fervour of RSSB. He filed his second case in the court.

Being aware of the influence that RSSB wielded in the government, among politicians and others with any power as well as the local rank and file, I suggested an out-of-court settlement. Sachin’s sensibility was offended. “Sir,” he told me with an exceptional confidence, “I trust in the judiciary of this country. Satyameva jayate.”

His optimism was misplaced, however. RSSB managed to get the entire staff and students out of the campus in a couple of years’ time. Then they razed every building – the school, a huge library, auditorium, hostels, staff quarters, hospital, dining hall, etc – and the entire 15-acre campus was converted into a parking lot for the cult’s devotees.  The cult had used various strategies, most of which were unfair and many were extremely diabolic, to achieve their final objective of annihilating the school.

I still remember one morning Sachin emerging from his staff quarters wearing nothing more than a pair of shorts and vest when the bulldozer started demolishing a wing of the staff quarters from which he had refused to vacate in spite of repeated orders from the management. I admired his guts. He called the police instantly and complained that the management was trying to kill him and his family. He had actually got a stay order from the court against the management’s order for vacating his residence. He won this time. The bulldozer had to withdraw. The withdrawal was for a few hours, however. RSSB is too powerful for a man like Sachin, however brave and honest he may be.

Sachin had to leave the campus soon. We all followed him in a matter of a few days. Such was the power of the religious cult. Whatever happened during that period added profundity to my inherent cynicism. But Sachin continued to be an ardent optimist.

Ambrose Bierce saw optimism as “an intellectual disorder” which is “hereditary but not contagious.”  I don’t know if it really is hereditary. But I’m convinced that it is a disorder when it crosses the borders of common sense. Bierce defined optimism as “a doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful including what is ugly”.  Everything is right including the wrong, for the optimist. The optimist will admonish you if you say the glass is half-empty because for him it is half-full. The optimist holds on to his faith with “greatest tenacity.” Bierce goes on to say that “Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof.”

Sachin frequently accuses me of being a “negative” and “hateful” man merely because I question the evils like lynching, communalism, fraudulence and chicanery perpetrated by the ruling BJP. His faith in the party is blind in the sense pointed out by Bierce.

I consider myself a realist. I accept the good as good and the bad as bad. I have a very strongly founded ethical system of my own which I follow meticulously though the religious optimists may not understand it. I can understand the aspirations of the man who gazes longingly at the stars in the heavens while standing rooted in the filthiest gutter. I too long to reach the stars. But I know the reality in which I am grounded. I know that real optimism begins from that reality. Mere longing is a hollow dream.



Monday, November 5, 2018

Vengeance



“Vengeance is mine.” God claims in the Bible. [Deuteronomy 32:35, and many other places]

“God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to His impossible standards.” Walt Whitman
 
Image courtesy Robert Hatfield
I wish moral vengeance was a natural law like gravitation. The law of gravitation will wreak its revenge on you if you try to fly from the top of a building. Similarly if there was a natural law for immoral acts, there would be no evil in the world. For example, if you do evil to a person nature will punish you with a proportionate evil.

But nature knows no such morality. On the contrary, nature has an unbalanced proportion of evil. Human civilisations have been relentless efforts to bring nature’s evil under man’s control. And morality is man’s effort to bring under control the evil within himself. Religions are supposed to assist man in the process of making himself virtuous. That they have failed in it miserably is a different matter.

“Should we take revenge? Or forgive and move on? Or tolerate and stay?” This is the prompt of the latest edition of In[di]spire. My personal feeling is that vengeance is evil. It is returning evil with evil. Thus the sum total of evil increases. As the Mahatma said, an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

Moreover, there is something terribly paradoxical about vengeance. Vengefulness makes you dependent on those who harmed you. You believe that your release from pain will come only when your enemy suffers. I wouldn’t like my happiness to be dependent on any other person, particularly those who harmed me.

However, what will I do if someone wreaks havoc in my life? Am I magnanimous enough to forgive and move on? Or even tolerate and stay? I’m not sure. No one has wreaked such havoc in my life so far and hence I can’t speak from experience. My gut feeling is that I’m not so magnanimous.

When I watch movies of vengeance where the protagonist decimates the villain[s] I feel the act is justified. There are certain evils which call for vengeful retaliation, my guts tell me. But my rational mind revolts against vengeance too merely because more evil is not the remedy for evil. But would I tell that to Othello if he decided to decimate Iago having come to know the whole story? Nope. Iago deserves decimation. The world will be a better place without Iagos.

In other words, when it is a question of removing certain big evils from the world, vengeance is vindicated as far as my morality is concerned. That is what the protagonists do in movies.

In real life, villains rule the roost, however. We live in a Machiavellian world. Machiavelli counselled the extremes of ‘caress or crush’. If you leave a person with a minor injury, he will return to take revenge, advised Machiavelli. Hence cripple them so much that they are rendered impotent to take revenge. We are actually witnessing this principle in practice nowadays. The present political system in the country seems to be highly Machiavellian. A few are caressed and the majority are crushed. That is why I wish nature had a moral system.

I know that my wish will never, never materialise. So I choose to go with Marcus Aurelius [whom I celebrated in a short story, Marcus Aurelius Dies]: “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

Afterthought: Has it ever struck you that India is increasingly becoming like its enemy? That’s why Shashi Tharoor called it ‘Hindu Pakistan’. Are we taking revenge or are we admiring our enemies by emulating them?






Saturday, November 3, 2018

The RSS and the End of Imagination

Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi


V. S. Naipual, during his 2004 visit to India, described Ayodhya as “a sort of passion to be encouraged.” His argument was that passion leads to creativity and Indians are rather short of creativity.

Indians seem to be better at demolitions, riots and destruction. Even when we speak about constructing a temple at Ayodhya, destructive malevolence seems to run at the bottom of the desire. For almost two centuries, Ayodhya has been a potent metanarrative in India, especially for the North Indian Hindus. Various people and political parties have used it effectively for rousing up the passions of large numbers of people. Finally when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 under the pontificate of L. K. Advani, Ayodhya lost its emotional fervour at least for a while.

Justifying the demolition Champat Rai, a joint general secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], said that the Babri Masjid was a “signpost of slavery for over 450 years and the self-respecting Bharat wanted to undo that statement of national humiliation and shame.”

However, that “statement of national humiliation and shame” which aroused the patriotic and religious fervour of a whole lot of people was lost altogether when it was demolished. It would have been easier to mobilise the Hindus against the Masjid than for a temple. It is always easy to rouse up passions against something than for something; rebellion and destruction are more natural and more interesting than creation and harmony.

When the Masjid ceased to exist and thus ceased to be a passion-generator, the BJP invented another metanarrative: development. Thus Narendra Modi rode the royal road to the throne in Delhi in 2014 piggybacking on sky-high developmental promises.

Modi failed to deliver, however. He turned out to be a windbag filled with hollow promises. So, in order to win the forthcoming elections, the Sangh Parivar stands in need of another metanarrative. Shorn of creative imagination, Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi, the RSS Pope, has threatened to repeat 1992 and some people have responded earnestly.

1992 was a bloodbath unleashed on the nation by a crowd of ‘Kar Sevaks’. The aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid resounded disastrously in Mumbai, Delhi, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Bhopal and several other places, eventually resulting in over 2000 deaths. This is what ‘Bhaiyyaji’ is offering the nation. What a pathetic lack of imagination, vision and creativity!



Thursday, November 1, 2018

My national pride swells

Who is taller? Image courtesy Hindustan Times


I feel proud to belong to the country that boasts of the tallest statue in the world. Silly countrymen tell me that the amount of money spent on that statue is far more than the entire annual tax revenue of many states in the country. They argue that while China is spending money on railroads across oceans, we are inane to spend it on a statue for vultures to ensconce themselves.

I liked the metaphor of vultures though I think that it is quite antinational in the context. Was Shah Jahan a vulture when he built the Taj Mahal while a lion’s share of his population lived in leaky huts? Shah Jahan spent the country’s wealth on things like the Peacock Throne which was embedded with the most coveted diamonds and pearls. Though the throne vanished from history like many other things, the mausoleum remains. Through that mausoleum Shah Jahan remains.

The tallest statue in the world is our own cultural emperor’s ingenious strategy to remain embedded in the history of the country. Shouldn’t we be proud of such a ruler? I ask these country people who question the worth of the statue. Then they tell me that it was Mahatma Gandhi who actually deserved the honour for unification of the country. Not that the Sardar was not great. There were a lot of great men in those days. Quite a lot compared to today. Didn’t the Mahatma tower above them all? They ask me.  Moreover, he was a Gujarati too if you consider the patriotism of a Gujarati who initiated the construction of the statue in the first place.

That’s where you are wrong, I tell them. There are other factors too. Can one who belonged and still belongs at heart to an organisation that was largely responsible for the assassination of a man put up the statue of that same man? A statue was required to proclaim the glory of the emperor, a statue that would span the sky and edify spectators from the moon. Next time when the kingdom of Bharat sends an astronaut to the moon and the emperor asks him what Bharat looked like from the lunar beams, the astronaut should say: “Saare jahaan se lamba Patel ji ka pratima!” My nationalist pride would swell through my veins then.

The countrymen called me all kinds of names. When prices of all essential commodities keep rising day by day and move beyond the reach of the common man, how dare I speak of nationalism? They asked me. They cited the example of the latest rise in the price of cooking gas: the sixth rise in 5 months, they reminded me.

Think of the Taj Mahal and the Peacock Throne, man, I told them. People paid their last penny, their last drop of blood and sweat, their everything for those icons of national pride. Can’t we be at least as civilised as those medieval people? Ah, I am left to lament: what kind of country men are these! Ignoramuses who have no notion of national pride!




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