Saturday, August 31, 2019

A peep into my pride



Humility is not in my DNA. I was hopelessly vain until some benevolent people in Shillong decided to hammer my ego on the anvil of humiliation. The Mastermind [the name I gave in my memoir, Autumn Shadows, to the person who masterminded the whole strategy] made me a personification of shame. I became so ashamed of myself, my ego was so much pulverised, that I had to leave the place just out of the survival instinct that keeps organisms keep going even when they know they are worthless in the larger picture that really matters. [Matters to whom? That’s a question I’ll take up in subsequent blogs.] I left Shillong with a fragmented soul.
Nearly two decades have passed after that flight and life has taught me a lot of lessons in those decades. Unfortunately humility has not been one of those lessons, it seems. Somebody in one of the many WhatsApp groups to which I belong more by necessity than choice was generous enough to tell me that in that group to which I never wanted to belong in the first place. That is the only one of two WhatsApp groups I quit because I couldn’t digest what was happening there. I’m still a member of about a dozen groups and nobody accuses me of pride or any other vice. On the contrary, people tell me that I make meaningful contributions to the groups. Nevertheless I took the member’s counsel seriously, as I always do with personal attacks, and spent a couple of days pondering it.
Why are you so proud? I asked myself. You’re an old man with grey hairs, stained teeth and a mended heart. You’ve seen life from a million angles. You’ve seen countless people who are far more gifted than you. You are insignificant, just another nonentity, on this planet of billions of creatures most of whom matter a lot more than you to someone or the other.
I know, I said. I never claimed to be anything significant at any time in the last two decades, did I? I questioned certain wrongs which I thought were serious matters. The way I express my indignation is rude sometimes, I know. Is rudeness a sign of pride?
Isn’t it?
My impatience with silliness and stupidity makes me rude. When people are not ready to listen to gentle expressions of dissent, my expressions become rude.
Ah, there you are. You think others are silly and stupid. Isn’t that just what pride is?
Well, aren’t they really that: stupid and silly? If you show them the naked truth, they’ll still cling to their silly beliefs and sentiments. Worse, their religious patrons commit heinous crimes like raping and killing and when I point that out, they call that pride! How silly!
Why do you want to meddle with people’s religious sentiments and beliefs? For most people those sentiments and beliefs are the only things that give meaning to their lives. When you nitpick with them, you are being very cruel. Only a cruel person can strangulate the very sense of life which people hold on to desperately in a sad existence.
I understand. It’s not about my pride really though I know that there is that horrible vice lingering within my soul in spite of all the fragmentation it went through. Some things are genetic. You can’t do much about them. How much more fragmentation will be required to heal me of my pride?
I’m cruel. I understand. I garrote the simple meanings that people discover in their lives. I am a murderer worse than the killers in religions and politics. They kill bodies. I kill meanings.
What is the meaning of life anyway? I decided to embark on a voyage into that question, into that ocean. September is dedicated to that voyage. Wait for much, much more, if you think it’s worthwhile.

Tomorrow: What is the meaning of life?
Yesterday: The Archangel’s Sword [What led me to all this]


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Be a Master rather than a follower



I asked a group of students to submit the topics of their speeches for a programme that the school was organising. One of the students asked me if she could choose the topic ‘Don’t be a follower’. I looked at her in surprise and she was baffled. “What a coincidence!” I said. I was at that time reading the first chapter of the book titled Mastery by Robert Greene. The page I was reading was about the social pressures on every individual to conform, to be a follower.
This social pressure is a counterforce to the vital force within each individual which urges him to nurture his uniqueness to fruition so that he will be the master that he was born to be. Greene’s thesis is worth paying attention to.
Each one of us is preciously unique. There is no other individual like you; there never was and never will be. Your Life’s Task is to discover that uniqueness, nurture it and bring it to fruition. It’s as natural a process as a seed growing up into a plant and then producing flowers and fruits.
But there are counterforces that work against that natural inborn force. One of the dominant counterforces is the social pressure to conform. The society wants you to fit into a group and be like the others in the group. We end up being imitations of others in a religion, a social community, and probably many other groups. Loners are usually perceived as dangerous people. Society abhors loners. Moreover, most of us love to belong to groups; that’s a strong urge. It’s easy to live too if we merge, without an articulate personal identity, into a group, the dominant one if possible. We usually end up being parts of many groups some of which may be contradictory to each other.
When we do that we lose touch with our uniqueness, Greene says. “Your inclinations and desires become modelled on those of others.” You become just another mediocre person who does the same things as most others. Your potential to be a master is strangled.
If you wish to become a Master, look inward and discover your uniqueness. There’s always something or many mutually related things that arouse your passion, something that you enjoy doing even as Charles Darwin enjoyed collecting biological specimens or Albert Einstein playing with abstract concepts about the forces that work in nature.
Your career must be related to that passion. Otherwise you end up doing merely a job without enjoying it really. In order to enjoy life you’ll then seek happiness in other things like possessions or entertainments or whatever. When your profession is in harmony with your innate passions, it is easy to be a Master.
The path toward Masterhood is not an easy one, however. There are the inevitable twists and turns. You’ll have to learn new skills on the way. You’ll encounter failures and problems. But you have to plod on until you reach where you are supposed to reach. When you reach there you see that your life has a clear sense of purpose. You have become the Master that you were born to be.

Statutory Warning: Masters are usually lonely people.

PS. I'm not a Master. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Archangel’s Sword

Archangel Michael

In Christian mythology, Archangel Michael is usually portrayed with a sword. He is the Commander of God’s security forces. I was under the impression that the warfare in the Christian divine milieu was over long ago when God and Satan agreed to draw the Line of Control between Heaven and Hell and each arrogated to himself his territory.

Myths are interesting particularly because they tell us how our forefathers understood good and evil. God is good and Satan is evil. Heaven is the abode of goodness and hell is the place where people like me will reach. One of the WhatsApp groups which I quit yesterday condemned me to hell because I question the evils perpetrated in the name of myths called god and satan. One member in that group invoked the archangel Michael to come with his sword and chop off my head. Not as bluntly as that. The honourable member posted a prayer to Michael to eliminate the enemies of the church. I am one of the enemies.
The Catholic Church is more powerful than any political body today. Even Donald Trump won’t be able to touch its fortresses which are guarded by Archangel Michael and his celestial armies. Narendra Modi has no idea about these alien forces because they were never mentioned in the Vedas. If Modi comes to know about Michael, he won’t dare to touch him.
Michael guards people who are much more powerful than Modi and Trump. Even their prayers are full of hatred. They pray for hellfire and butchery. Why not have some gentle prayers, my friends? Why not fill your hearts with good thoughts instead of violence and vitriol?
I know it’s no use asking these questions. Religions have always been about butchery. Who to kill and who not to kill: that’s the fundamental question in every religion. Leave me alone, please. I am struggling to retain my goodness in a world of religious people.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Compassion and Conversion

Mr S K Sharma with Sawan students at Premdaan
Photo courtesy: Mr S K Sharma


My evening walks in Delhi invariably took me by the gate of Premdaan, an institution run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Premdaan stood just a kilometre from Sawan Public School where I worked as a teacher for 14 years. Both the school and the missionary institution stood on the side of the only road that connected the metropolis of Delhi with the rural outskirts of Bhatti Mines.
I met Krishnan during one of those walks. He was the gatekeeper of Premdaan. He looked a tough person caught in a fragile body: he was less than 5 feet in height and extremely attenuated. Many encounters and casual conversations during my regular evening walks created an unusual bond between Krishnan and me.
“How did you reach here?” I asked him once in Malayalam, the language that both us spoke fluently.
He grinned showing me his irregular teeth many of which were missing. “It’s a long story,” he said. He had some problems with his wife, and his son had abandoned the family. He left home one day without any destination in mind. He boarded a train which took him northward. He changed trains several times until he found himself in Jaipur without a paisa. He was hungry and thirsty. Having drunk water from a tap in the railway station, he started walking. Somewhere on the torrid streets of royal Jaipur, the scorching sun brought him down. The Jaipur police found him lying unconscious on the roadside and carried him to an institution for the destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity. He had been with the nuns ever since. They gave him the job as a gatekeeper at their institution on the Mehrauli-Bhatti Road, a job which he carried on for decades.
He took a brief holiday every year to visit his wife in Kerala. “A few words and a lot of silence keep the relationship alive,” he said. “I do miss her when I’m away from her. But when I meet her, I want to be away from her.”
Premdaan housed mentally challenged people. The nuns looked after the 100-odd inmates all of whom suffered from varying degrees of psychological disorder. “The nuns are very compassionate and dedicated,” Krishnan told me once. “You’ll be amazed by the service they render to these insane people. No ordinary person will be able to do what the nuns here do.”
I began to visit Premdaan. Initially I went with Maggie, my wife, who used to go there every Sunday for the morning Mass. I attended the Mass too with her now. I saw the nuns and some of their patients too who came to attend the Mass. Soon I became a benefactor. I made occasional contributions in solidarity with the humanitarian mission that the nuns were carrying out.
In the meanwhile, I learnt that my school was always extending support to Premdaan much before I discovered it. The nuns used to seek occasional assistance from the resident doctor of my school. Mr S K Sharma, one of my colleagues and a person who did much to create a social consciousness among the students, used to take groups of students to Premdaan occasionally and offer financial as well as other contributions.
“Didn’t the nuns ever try to convert you?” I asked Krishnan when a unique friendly bond had emerged between us.
“Never,” he asserted. “I’ve been with them for decades now and not once have they asked me to become a Christian.”
“Have you ever attended the church services?”
“No. I’m free to attend, if I wish. But I have not felt the urge yet.”
I had given up my Sunday morning visits too because the Mass failed to make sense to me. But I continued to make my occasional financial contributions. I loved the service that the nuns were providing to the utterly helpless people of Premdaan.
Krishnan began to show signs of aging as my life in Sawan was drawing to a close. “I’m losing my eyesight,” he told me one evening. The nuns had taken him for a medical check-up and there was little that medical science could do to restore his flagging vision.
Eventually Krishnan disappeared from the gate of Premdaan. I told Maggie to enquire about him the next Sunday when she went as usual for the morning Mass.  
“Krishnettan [Krishnan bhai] has lost his eyesight completely,” Maggie told me as soon as she returned from Premdaan. “He is another inmate of Premdaan now.”
I visited Premdaan the next Christmas and met Krishnan. He needed help to walk around. He was brought to the church for the Christmas celebration and ceremony. He had become a regular presence at the church, he told me. It was his choice. “I felt the urge,” he said.
I never met Krishnan after that. My school’s management changed and the troubles and tribulations at school kept me preoccupied. Until I left Delhi in 2015.
I still remember Krishnan and the nuns of Premdaan. But it is only Krishnan’s face that rises clearly in my memory. The nuns never articulated their faces. Service was their face and it has no distinct individuality.
 
Outside Sawan's staff quarters in 2015
My last winter in Delhi
PS. August 26 is the birth anniversary of Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.



Friday, August 23, 2019

The Art of Reviewing




I rely heavily on reviews before buying certain things especially books. I also make sure that the reviewer is credible enough. Popular newspapers and other publications usually provide reliable reviews. There are some bloggers too who can be counted on for balanced reviews.

Reviewing anything is an art. Let me confine to books here. I have reviewed umpteen books a few of which were written by my friends and acquaintances. Let me confess that I am more objective and balanced when I review books written by people who have no personal connections with me. Friendship does tend to make me more lenient in my judgments. I try my best to be fair and balanced even in such cases; diplomacy helps.

I give an overview of the book without letting out the essential secrets. If you’re reviewing a novel, you need to stop after arousing the enthusiasm of the potential reader. In the case of non-fiction, the review can go all out and summarise the book if need be.

I look at the theme(s) and characters while reviewing fiction. I comment briefly on the style and other such minor details. What make a work of fiction fascinating to me are the theme(s) and the characters. I draw the reader’s attention to those. I wouldn’t like to mislead a potential reader by giving false information, even if the book is written by a friend. Recently a blogger-friend sent me a copy of his book, a collection of short stories. He didn’t mention any demand, of course. I would have reviewed it in the normal procedure. However, I desisted this time because the book had too many errors of all sorts. The stories are good, but the writing is atrocious. How do I write that without hurting the author? So I chose to let the book pass.

I read a lot and I’m a very fussy reader. I expect high standards from books. The last book I read – reread, rather – is Freedom at Midnight and I wrote a blog on it. It was not a review because a classic doesn’t require a review. The book I’m reading now is My Seditious Heart by Arundhati Roy. I’ll review it once I finish reading though a collection of essays written over 20 years is not easy to review. And the book which I’ll be ordering next is Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte though I’ll wait for a few reviews to appear in some good publications. Sometimes reviews make me change my decision to buy a book. In short,reviews do matter much to me.



Afterword:

I published a memoir [Autumn Shadows] recently and am waiting for reviews from some blogger-friends. A few reviews and other write-ups have already appeared in some blogs and am grateful to the writers. One of the best [very comprehensive and generous too] reviews so far has been by Amit Misra.

I also published a collection of some of my poems under the title God’s Love Song.

In case you’d like to receive a reviewer copy of any of the two or both, do let me know. I welcome critical reviews; be as objective as you please.



PS. This post is written for Indispire Edition 288: #reviews


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My ignorance better than your knowledge




There are facts and there are opinions. Facts can be verified while opinions can be disputed. That water boils at 100 degrees Celsius under normal temperature and pressure is a fact. Water will boil at that particular temperature whether it is in Hindu India or Muslim Pakistan, Trump’s America or Kim’s Korea. No sane person will bother to question such facts.

If I say that Narendra Modi is the best Prime Minister India has had so far, that’s just an opinion which cannot be verified the way water’s boiling point can be. There are still a lot of Indians who will argue that Nehru was the best Prime Minister India has had. Which other Prime Minister of India possessed his kind of knowledge and intellectual acumen? There are those who pitch for his daughter who after all bifurcated Pakistan into two nations and sent shivers down the spines of both with the nuclear explosions in Pokhran. You can bring in a lot of facts to defend your opinion. Facts are not enough to convince people to change their opinions, however.

The Ganga is a holy river for quite many Indians. The fact is that it is one of the most polluted rivers in India. Facts don’t matter at all when it comes to beliefs. The Ganga’s sanctity is a matter of religious faith. It is not even an opinion; intellectually, religious faith is far inferior to opinions. It is more of a sentiment than anything else. Such sentiments are rooted in what Freud called “the infantile needs” of adult human beings. Religious beliefs belong to the darkest (the most undeveloped) realms of the human mind. These beliefs are supposed to throw some light in those savage realms. That’s their only useful purpose. Instead, people insist on equating beliefs with facts and thus create untold problems for themselves and others.

It is difficult to reason with people who don’t know the difference between facts, opinions and beliefs. Reason is alien to most people. People prefer opinions and beliefs. Opinions and beliefs, particularly the latter, have a dark power which holds a mysterious, supernatural sway over people.

The really dark truth is that most people don’t even have their own opinions and beliefs. As Oscar Wilde said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” People live with borrowed truths: borrowed beliefs and opinions. But they convince themselves that these borrowed things are their own. They guard these borrowed things aggressively precisely because they are borrowed. If they were their own, aggression would be redundant. What better defence is there for your beliefs and opinions than your own convictions? As it is, the only conviction is: My ignorance is better than your knowledge.

***************************
For a copy of my poems, God's Love Song, click here. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Photos and Memories

Today is World Photography Day. I wish to celebrate it by posting a few old pics which carry many memories.

One of my first students, Shillong, late 1980s
During a clasd trip to Cherrapunjee
My first colleagues, St Joseph's School, Shillong 1986
A Khasi tribal house in a Meghalaya village bordering Bangladesh [1988]

A friend in Shillong with his daughters who were my little friends
Staff quarters of Sawan Public School, Delhi
Monkeys were regular visitors
This one chose to make the dish antenna his throne
Beautiful peacocks too visited the staff quarters occasionally
In the hills of Gangtok, 2010
One of the post offices in the Gangtok hills
At Badrinath, 2005
A view from the Edakkal Caves of Wayanadu, 2018
A part of my backyard, yesterday

Saturday, August 17, 2019

I am not a nationalist




I am not a nationalist. That does not make me antinational. Rather, it makes me more human; it makes me a person who is open to other cultures and languages, religions and lifestyles.

I often imagine myself as a bird to which borders and fences mean nothing. The bird can fly across the Line of Control to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and further to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan and beyond, without a passport and visa.

But I am not a bird, alas. I am a man without wings except in my imagination. So I need to respect what other men respect: borders and fences. Hence I have acquired a passport which shows my nationality indubitably. Yes, I belong to a nation. Does that make me a nationalist? Should it?

Nation-states are human creations for the convenience of administration. People need to erect fences and say this is our area and you can’t transgress. That’s fine. I have no issues with that. But why should that make me hate the fellow on the other side of the fence? Nationalism seems to mean just that: hating the fellow on the other of my fence.

Nationalism can be a healthy and required sentiment if a nation is enslaved by another. When the British colonised India, nationalism was justified. But that nationalism is not hatred of the British as Mahatma Gandhi said clearly. “We don’t hate you,” he told the British, “but we must tell you that you don’t belong here as the rulers. We must govern ourselves.” I’ll die for that sort of nationalism.

But if you tell me that I must hate the British if I wish to be a nationalist, I’m sorry. I don’t want to pervert my heart with hatred of anyone. I don’t have to hate Pakistan in order to prove my love for India. I don’t have to be a bigot in order to be a patriot.

I would like to be a bird with translucent wings, flying above all sorts of fences, fences of nations, religions, languages, cultures and races. I have those wings, in fact. They are so transparent that you can’t see them. So I may look like an antinational creature flying in alien spaces. Looks are deceptive unless you know how to read hearts.



PS. Written for Indispire Edition 287: #nationalism


Welcome to my new book: God's Love Song.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A few quotes from myself

I wish to present a few quotes from my own book, Autumn Shadows. The purpose, obviously, is to tempt you to buy a copy of the book. Let me caution you that it is an e-book and it has no print version. 

Quotes:

Guilt is the very foundation of Christianity.  Man is a fallen creature, according to its theology.  The Bible begins with the Fall of Adam and Eve from divine grace.  The biblical history of mankind begins with an irate God who hurls curses on the first man and the first woman.  Having subordinated the woman to the man, God gifts her the severe pain of childbearing as a punishment for her sins.  He curses the whole ground on which Adam was to walk and work. Guilt is the very foundation of Christianity.  Man is a fallen creature, according to its theology.  The Bible begins with the Fall of Adam and Eve from divine grace.  The biblical history of mankind begins with an irate God who hurls curses on the first man and the first woman.  Having subordinated the woman to the man, God gifts her the severe pain of childbearing as a punishment for her sins.  He curses the whole ground on which Adam has to walk and work. [Chapter 3: A Rite of Passage]

*
However austere one may be, however strict one may be, there is a very human heart within. Ultimately, it is love that makes all the difference. All our intellect and rationality fail to bring us happiness and meaning in life. [Chapter 4: Stargazing]
*
What is destiny but a creation of our own deeds and misdeeds? [Chapter 9: The best of both worlds]
*
One of those nights I woke up drenched with sweat. The nightmare had taken me to Hell. Lucifer sat on a massive boulder holding a spear in his left hand while his right hand was pointed at me. His serrated tail rose behind him towering above his head with a pointed metallic arrow at its end. The hell-fire raged behind that.
“Why is this man here?” Lucifer asked the devils pointing at me. There was contempt in the fire that emanated from his eyes.
The devils were puzzled. “Where else would this evil soul go?” They seemed to ask.
“This man is too evil for my Hell. Take him away and throw him out.” [Chapter 14:  Sisyphus carries water]

*
During my second year at Carmel, I met with a scooter accident and was on leave for a month and a half from school. In the second month, a note was delivered personally at my home. It was from a student. “We all miss your lively presence,” it said, “and we want you to know that our best thoughts are with you. You are the best person we have ever known and we wish we had the magic to make you healthy. We don’t need a hero to make our days lively at school. We need you. We miss you and look forward to the day you come back.”
Such expressions of affection have not been rare at Carmel. And affection has no religion. [Chapter 20: Autumn Shadows]
***
You can order your copy here.
Go to Amazon

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Independent, are we?


Image from Outlook, 10 April 2018
That article is worth reading; click here to read.


I don’t want to be a spoilsport on a great occasion like the Independence of my country. Wish you a Happy Independence Day.

Are we independent, however?

I belong to the old generation most among whom believe with Mahatma Gandhi that independence is not just a political matter. Independence is much more than liberation from colonial rule. Have we really come a great way from those days when the British treated us as just goods and chattel? I doubt.

Of course, quite many things have improved. The country’s statisticians tell me so. For example, India was food deficient when the country became independent in 1947. Today we have excess of food. Yet today thousands of Indians go hungry! Tons of food just go waste in our warehouses.

As long as there is even one citizen who goes hungry in a country, that country cannot be considered independent. It is enslaved by poverty or injustice or inequity or corruption. India suffers from all of these and a lot more enslaving problems.

Worse, all these problems have been subsumed under a glowing veneer of nationalism today to which has also been added the superficial fervour of pietism. Suddenly a ridiculously large majority of Indians have become nationalist and religious.

The truth is that it is not so much about nationalism or religion as about hatred of certain sections of people. This new breed of nationalists and religionists are more eager to correct the errors in the religious practices of other people, people who practise other religions (especially one religion which need not be named at all, for all Indians know it). This new breed of nationalists and religionists are very much interested in the welfare of the wives of men belonging to that religion. They are very eager to bring prosperity to regions where people from that religion are the majority. They are very concerned about their food habits. And so on.

No, India is not at all independent. India has been pushed into a quagmire of communalism. Add all the superstition that is peddled in the name of an ancient venerated culture, and the last chance of salvation is stolen. Pseudo-science reigns supreme today. Genuine science is scoffed at even in the premier institutions of learning such as IITs by our eminent leaders and the learned scientists sit quietly listening to all the balderdash.

Silence of the intellectuals is a serious nemesis that is haunting India today. The intellectuals don’t want to lose their jobs. They don’t want income tax raids. They don’t obviously like to be shot at on the way back home. Or just be lynched by hooligans who wear patriots’ garbs.

Hooliganism masquerades as heroism in India today. That too with official sanction. If you look at some of our prominent leaders, listen to their loquacious speeches, read between the lines of what they utter, you will be struck dumb by the sheer lack of imagination, let alone vision. Did a country of 125 crore people elect these leaders? You wonder. You feel ashamed of yourself for belonging there among them.

What a pity! Independence Day!



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Freedom at Midnight




I wanted to celebrate this Independence by rereading the classic work, Freedom at Midnight. The exercise which began a month back is over today. A book which sold millions of copies and found thousands of fans need no review now. However, I’m writing this piece just to remind the younger generation that there is a work like this which is worth spending time on if they wish to understand India better.

The massive book which runs into several hundred pages covers just one year in India’s painful history: 1947. It begins with the arrival of the Mountbattens in India at the turn of the New Year and ends with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi a year later. We meet a lot of Indians between the Mountbattens’ reluctant flight to Delhi and the mournful cremation of the Mahatma in Raj Ghat. Nehru and Patel, Jinnah and Savarkar, and a whole lot of average Indians come vividly alive in these pages.

The book was written after a protracted research by the authors, Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. By the time they started writing the book, they had collected “over eight hundred kilos of documentations, transcript of some nine hundred interviews, historical archives.” It was a research of unprecedented magnitude.

Gandhi emerges as a great hero in the book. The complexity of the Mahatma’s character – his impatience with certain things and people in contrast to his tremendous forbearance, his rejection of modern medicine even when his wife faced her death, his towering will power in contrast to his saintly humility, to mention just a few paradoxes – is delineated with clinical precision by the authors. The man whom many British people described as a sly creature with a lot of self-contradictions emerges as a rare saint whom both Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina admired and loved.

Nehru was Gandhi’s favourite acolyte in spite of the immense differences between the two characters. Gandhi was a saintly ascetic with deep faith in God; Nehru was an agnostic and a romantic idealist who “dreamed of reconciling [in India] the parliamentary democracy of England and the economic socialism of Karl Marx.” The word religion inspired “horror” in Nehru. He “despised India’s priests, her sadhus, her chanting monks and pious sheikhs. They had only served, he felt, to impede [the country’s] progress, deepen her divisions and ease the task of her foreign rulers.”

Jinnah was a non-believer too. “The only thing Moslem about Mohammed Ali Jinnah,” say the authors, “was his parent’s religion. He drank, ate pork, religiously shaved his beard each morning and just as religiously avoided the mosque each Friday. God and the Koran had no place in Jinnah’s vision of the world. His political foe, Gandhi, knew more verses of the Moslem Holy Book than he did.”

V D Savarkar and other RSS leaders emerge as villainous characters in the pages who did little good to the country. “Savarkar detested Congress,” says the book, “with its pleas for Hindu-Moslem unity and its Gandhian non-violence. His doctrine was Hindutva, the doctrine of Hindu racial supremacy, and his dream was of rebuilding a great Hindu empire from the sources of the Indus to those of the Brahmaputra, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas. He hated the Moslems. There was no place for them in the Hindu society he envisioned.”

Nathuram Godse “failed English on his matriculation and did not get into a university. Out of school, he drifted from one job to another, nailing up packing crates for a shipper in a freight depot, peddling fruit, retreading tyres. A group of American missionaries taught him the only profession he really mastered, one he continued to exercise in 1947, the tailor’s trade.”

Godse’s accomplice, Narayan Apte, was a sensualist who taught mathematics at an American Mission High School where “his real interest” was to introduce “his female students to the erotic message of the Kama Sutra…”

The authors take occasional, enlightening glimpses into India’s earlier history too. We are given a tour of the princely kingdoms and many of the Maharajas emerge as utter incongruities with their impoverished subjects. We also meet a lot of ordinary Indian citizens who fought for the country’s freedom and then fought among themselves brutally in the name of their respective religions.  Blood flowed freely in the holy rivers of North India in August 1947. Many pages of this book reek of that blood.

The book is a tour de force that should be read by every Indian, especially the younger generation of today. They may be surprised by how little they knew the real history of India’s freedom struggle. They may learn to do something for their country at this juncture when a lot of action is required from youngsters whose idealism is not snuffed out yet.

“The difference between what we do and what we could do,” as Gandhi says in the book, “would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” Let me end this with another quote from the Mahatma: “A leader is only a reflection of the people he leads.”



PS. The edition of the book that Amazon delivered to me a month back is published by Vikas Publishing House, Delhi. The first 50-odd pages, the entire introduction that was added to the new edition brought out on the occasion of an anniversary, is replete with printing errors. Every page has more than one error which irritates the reader unfailingly. However, the rest of the edition is error-free.

Wish you a happy and meaningful Independence Day.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Beyond Article 370




Article 370 had to go long ago. Most of the special statuses given to various states at the time of India’s Independence became redundant as time passed. They should have, at least. If they persisted for decades, it means they were not effective and not serving their purpose. So better alternatives were required.

Kashmir was a mistake right from the beginning. Just because the king there happened to be a Hindu, the state became a part of India. Of course, Nehru had a role in that too. It was not, however, “rank hypocrisy” that prompted Nehru to accede Kashmir to India, as suggested by eminent columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in today’s [11 Aug 2019] Times of India [in his column pertinently titled Next Step: A West Bank in Kashmir?]. Nehru was essentially romantic, and the roots of his romanticism lay in the miscegenated culture of Kashmir. Who but a romantic would describe a place as “supremely beautiful woman whose beauty is almost impersonal and above desire”? Nehru loved Kashmir’s “feminine beauty of river and valley and lake and graceful trees.” Who can blame such a romantic for longing to keep Kashmir with his country?

Aiyar’s argument is that Kashmir didn’t really belong to a communally divided India. It was better to let it go to Pakistan where the Muslims really belonged at that time. When thousands of Hindus and Muslims had killed each other already, when India had witnessed “the greatest migration in history” [the title of a chapter in the classical Freedom at Midnight], there was no logic in assuming that the Nehruvian version of secularism would eventually embrace the Muslims of Kashmir. India never, never possessed even a fraction of Nehru’s romanticism. India was, if anything, downright pragmatic; it was cutthroat pragmatism too.

The Congress should have abolished article 370 long ago and done a lot of things to solve the problems in Kashmir. But the Congress lacked the imagination to do anything more than appease sections of people with sops of various kinds. The majority community of the country hit back with its quintessential pragmatism by electing as their leader a man who has the butcher’s heart and a surgeon’s pretences. So article 370 went. Many other things will follow. Kashmir won’t ever be Nehru’s “supremely beautiful woman”.

As Aiyar fears it may become India’s West Bank. The typical BJP leaders are already gloating about the possibility of “marrying” [raping?] the fair-skinned women of Kashmir. The slightly less typical ones are looking forward to owning the soil of Kashmir. No one talks about the people of Kashmir.

Has Mr Modi done a great service to the people of Kashmir as he claimed in a rhetorical speech that followed the abrogation of the article 370? Given that man’s credentials, it is impossible to believe that. He is more likely to create India’s own West Bank in Kashmir. India can look forward to a lot of violence and massacre in the near future.

Mohandas Gandhi’s mystic inclusiveness and Nehru’s poetic romanticism were very minor errors in politics in comparison with mass murders.



PS. Written for Indispire Edition 286: #article370


Friday, August 9, 2019

I surrender my voting right




The first time I voted in a political election was when I was 43. It was for the Delhi assembly election. I had migrated to Delhi just two years prior that election. Before that I lived in Shillong for 15 long years without ever getting an opportunity to vote since I was a dkhar (outsider) there. [Read more about all that in my memoir: Autumn Shadows.]


I have been a responsible voter ever since Delhi gave me the citizen’s right. However, my voting right makes no sense to me now. So I’m seriously considering giving up that right. Do I live in a democracy at all?


Indian democracy today is not unlike the scenario of two wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for dinner. You know who the two wolves are. You may be yet to realise that you are the sheep.


Two citizens, just two, decide what 1340 million people want or should want. That’s present India. The 1340 million are just one sheep. The wolves tell us that they have been given the mandate to impose their will on the nation by a vast majority of the sheep. That’s democracy, of course. Do I want to belong to such a democracy? Do I belong there, in the first place? When the majority of the sheep decide that they are white and people like me are black sheep, that’s democracy too, and I should meekly extend my neck to be slit.


“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” said Winston Churchill. I have much longer conversation with India’s average voters. You find them all over, on the social media especially. They are not even average, I think having listened to all the balderdash they speak and write in the name of absurd concepts like nationalism, patriotism, revanchism, and you name it.


The great sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, was of the view that most of our political and cultural life is nurtured by the false notion (upon which democracy essentially relies) that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’. India is now passing through a never-before-seen phase of anti-intellectualism. Intellectuals are urban Naxalites or antinational or plain traitors. They are intimidated in various ways. Some are even killed with impunity. Ignorance reigns. Stupidity dominates.


People shouldn’t be afraid of their government in a democracy. It should be just the other way: the government should be afraid of the people. When you live in an inverted democracy, where the majority of sheep vote for the wolves assuming that the wolves will satisfy their appetite eating up the minority, there’s little hope for the country. It may look bright now for the majority. But history teaches us that any system that feeds on a section of its own community will eventually eat into just anyone. Anyone can be labelled as antinational or urban Naxalite or anything for the sake of just two wolves.


We have reached a stage, anyway, when voting doesn’t matter at all. A stage when just two wolves decide everything for all of us. And they possess the eloquence to sway our convictions, our hearts and our passions. Soon they won’t need our votes at all. If our votes do make any difference, they won’t let us do it, as Mark Twain said.






Thursday, August 8, 2019

Love's Pain

Unless you're willing to be hurt, do not start loving  another person. Love hurts. There's no escape. Love is an ocean of  feelings. And feelings are brittle. People throw all sorts of things into that ocean. Their bottles of frustration, the effluent of their sorrows, and all the bilge water in their boats, all are hurled into the ocean.  They  think the ocean is the right place for all that. They think the ocean is an infinite receptacle, a crucible that melts anything and everything. 

Humans love to leave their marks wherever they can. They would have left them on the pages of history if they could. Normally, however, they leave it in your heart. "The marks humans leave are too often scars," as John Green said. 

That's okay, but. What's life without those scars? It is those scars that make life worthwhile. Happiness leaves no marks. Happiness teaches no lessons. Happiness is not human; it belongs to angelic realms, too ethereal, as unreal as the fairies of nursery school tales. 

As unreal as the illusions offered by a draught of whisky. The drink can numb the pain. But for how long?  The  numbness will eventually and inevitably evaporate. And then the pain will hit you harder. 

Instead, love the pain. No, it's not masochism, if you've understood what I've been saying. It's wisdom, rather. Every wound is potential wisdom. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Little Girl

The Little Girl is a short story by Katherine Mansfield given in the class 9 English course of NCERT. Maggie gave an assignment to her students based on the story and one of her students, Athena Baby Sabu, presented a brilliant job. She converted the story into a delightful comic strip.

Mansfield tells the story of Kezia who is the eponymous little girl. Kezia is scared of her father who wields a lot of control on the entire family. She is punished severely for an unwitting mistake which makes her even more scared of her father. Her grandmother is fond of her and is her emotional succour.

The grandmother is away from home one day with Kezia's mother who is hospitalised. Kezia gets her usual nightmare and is terrified. There is no one at home to console her except her father from whom she does not expect any consolation. But the father rises to the occasion and lets the little girl sleep beside him that night. She rests her head on her father's chest and can feel his heartbeats. "What a big heart you've got, Father dear," she tells her father.

Let me present Athena's work below which speaks eloquently for itself.


Athena Baby Sabu











xZx

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Prayer

'What's prayer?' I asked in a class today.

One of the students said rather hesitantly, 'A wish for the welfare of everyone.'

I was not sure I heard her right. So I asked her to repeat the answer. She became more hesitant. So I rendered my assistance. "A wish for the welfare of …?'

'Everyone,' She completed it.

'Fantastic,' I said. 'What else is prayer but a wish for the welfare of everyone?'

Monday, August 5, 2019

The greatest tragedy


Death is not the greatest tragedy, not even if it comes too early. The greatest tragedy is dying without having loved. Rather, the greatest tragedy is living without loving.

The essence of life is love. All the rest is peripheral. Achievements and conquests can add colours to life. Nationalism and other isms can add intoxication to life. But unless you have love in your heart, none of those things matter really.

What kind of patriotism is it that prompts people to hate certain sections of people in the country? What kind of religion is it that motivates people to take up arms in its name against whole sections of humanity?

I have been surprised again and again by people who are intellectually gifted but emotionally sterile, people who write wonderful blogs but nurture hatred in their hearts. Some of these people even think that those who advocate love without borders are antinational!

Why should my love have national borders? Why should my love have a religion?

Experience has taught me that love makes me a wholesome person, a happy person. Hatred makes me small and embittered. I choose to be happy. I choose to love.

Questioning certain wrongs is not hatred. On the contrary, it is an act of love. Wrongs have to be corrected, not condoned.