Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An Orchestra of Minorities

The book that I’m reading now is An Orchestra of Minorities, the new novel by the Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma. The eponymous orchestra does not refer to any musical composition; it refers to a lament. This orchestra is a collective lament by a brood of chickens produced when they lose one of them to a hawk. When the hawk carries away one of the chickens, the others produce the same sound together, “like a burial song for the one that has gone.”
The protagonist’s father calls that lament an orchestra of the minorities. The chickens belong to the minority of birds that are “fragile” and “very unlike the wild birds”.
These days India is witnessing a lot of orchestras of minorities, protests against the apparently ill-motivated Citizenship Act. The country’s extraordinarily powerful leaders keep telling us that the Act is good for the country. But millions of citizens refuse to trust them. Trust cannot be extracted through barrels of guns.
A few days back, on 23 Dec to be precise, a young man named Mohammed Raees died In Uttar Pradesh. He had been shot in the stomach by the UP police three days prior to his death. He was a street hawker who happened to be present at the site of a protest against the controversial act.
“Did he die because we are Muslims?” His father Mohammed Shareef asked Vikas Pandey of BBC. “Are we not citizens of this country? I will keep asking this question until I die.”
The chief minister of the state who is a self-proclaimed yogi threatened to take “revenge” on the protesters by confiscating their property to compensate for the losses incurred by the state. There is no harm in making people pay for the damages they cause. But is that revenge?
A 'Wanted' poster put up the Kanpur police
The 'criminals' can be identified by their dress, as the PM said the other day.
Source: BBC
When the government wants to take revenge on its people, orchestras will rise in the air. Plaintive orchestras like those of the fragile chickens? Or assertive orchestras of rightful citizens? Either way, It’s a bad situation. The New Year doesn’t seem to hold bright promises.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Life, Movies and the real Villains

Movies and life are mirror images of each other. Movies reflect life and vice-versa. Script writers draw inspiration from the life around them. Movie viewers are influenced to some extent at least by what they see on the screen. Audrey Hepburn went to the extent of claiming that “Everything I learnt I learnt from the movies.”
Movies do influence people. But can we ascribe to movies all the violence and other forms of evil in today’s world? A fellow blogger raises the question in this week’s Indispire: “Is the portrayal of women in Cinema one of the reasons behind increase in sexual crimes against them? Do commercial movies merely reflect prevailing attitudes or do they shape and contribute to those attitudes as well?” 
Did our ancestors burn thousands of women on the funeral pyres of their husbands because of movies? Were millions of women kept confined to hearth and home for centuries because of movies? Were thousands of pubescent girls abandoned in temples in the name of devadasi system because of movies?
It has been a man’s world all along. A few matriarchal tribal societies in the northeast may be the only exceptions. Even the matrilineal system among the Nairs in Kerala was a system forged by the Namboothiri men to exploit the women sexually.
The 21st century has entered adulthood. Yet have men’s attitudes towards women changed significantly? Women are not free to walk about where they like, when they like, and with whom they like. Men will make the choices for them even today in countries like India.
India has been taken backward by a few centuries in the name of culture and religion. The movies are not the villains. You know who the villains are. Unfortunately you will vote the same villains to power again.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 305: #VulgarityInCinema
PPS. Having read my previous post, New Year Resolutions, a friend texted, “So really you gonna change your style of writing? Ha ha ha. I have a doubt.” Her doubt is proved valid by the very next post of mine, this present one.

Friday, December 27, 2019

New Year Resolutions

If I had abided by all my new year resolutions, I would have been a saint by now. I stopped making new year resolutions when I realised that none of my resolutions met any fulfilment beyond a couple of days or utmost a week. But as I’m entering the year which will make me a sexagenarian – a senior citizen – resolutions began to queue up at the threshold of my heart.
I made rendezvous with each of them and resolved to choose two. One being a very personal affair, it won’t find a mention here. The other is about my writing.
Your writing offends too many people, the resolution-candidate said. Moreover, nothing much is achieved by pointing out people’s errors to them. Turn positive.
Okay, I say. I shall enter the last phase of a man’s dharma: sannyasa. I hereby renounce all cravings for a better government, a better nation and a better life.
No, you don’t have to renounce anything yet. Death will demand such renunciation in due course of time.
The mention of death diverts my attention. If you know you haven’t too many years left on this earth, what will you do? I ask myself. I’ll come to terms with the given reality and surrender with a beatific smile.
That’s good, the candidate says. Resistance is of no use, anyway, and will only make the end more miserable. Dying with a smile on your lips is the best you can do to yourself as well as others. But there’s time yet for that. Bring smiles to people now when there’s time yet.
The headlines in the newspapers lying on my little table snarl at me. “Beware of IT and ED raids, warns BJP leader,” reads one headline. It’s about a leader who was warning the film people of Kerala not to protest the new Citizenship Act. Another headline quotes a Haryana MLA who threatened to kill all protesters within an hour. A woman who calls herself a sadhvi and is an MP though she was a terrorist earlier labels all the people who protest against the new Act as antinational. A man who calls himself a yogi and is a chief minister allows crimes happen in his state with a specific political goal.
Everybody knows these things, my resolution-candidate says. Do you think people are fools? You don’t have to draw their attention to these things. They know them. They are the ones who perpetrate these crimes, aren’t they? Or they are the victims. It’s perpetrators or victims. Neither need your highlights of these things. They need someone to touch their hearts. The heart sees more clearly than the eyes.
I accept this candidate. I resolve to exercise my heart in the new year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

My Seditious Heart

Book Review

Arundhati Roy is a rare blend of passion and intellect. Even the most banal truths become poetry in her writing and go straight to your heart. I love such writing. Such writing has immense dangers, however. It is emotive and many people – too many, in fact – are not able to deal with emotions effectively. That is precisely why Roy has too many enemies.
That’s not the only reason, however. She doesn’t belong where most people do: a religious faction, a political party or leaning, or any other narrow-minded social entity. She belongs to the cosmos. She towers far above the ordinary mortals that refuse to see beyond painfully bounded horizons. She sees reality differently from her vantage point.
My Seditious Heart is a collection of the essays and articles she wrote in the last two decades for various periodicals or publications. They are brought together into an elegant volume of nearly 1000 pages by Penguin Random House. I had read most of these writings when they were published originally. But, being a fan of Roy, I wanted this collection and now I have gone through the entire thing once again over a period of a month. I loved reading every page of it. I wish I could write like her.
Comparing the Congress and the BJP, Roy says, “Hypocrisy, Congress-style, is serious business. It’s clever – it smokes up the mirrors and leaves us groping around. However, to proudly declare your bigotry, to bring it out into the sunlight as the BJP does, is a challenge to the social, legal, and moral foundations on which modern India (supposedly) stands.”
She wrote that in early 2016. Nearly four years later, today, we know how much the “social, legal and moral foundations” of our nation stand fractured.
Much before that, in a talk delivered at the Riverside Church, New York City, in2003, she said quoting the Nazi Hermann Goering, “People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders… All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” She was referring to the American version of right-wing conservatism. Can we apply that to India today?
If we read Roy with an open mind, we will benefit much. Our understanding of our socio-political reality will change and with it our courses of action. India today stands at a juncture when more and more people are becoming bigots for various reasons.
Roy knows what she is writing about. She has been there before she writes about it. She was there with the Narmada Bachao Andolan; she was there with the Maoists in Bastar; she was there with the people of Kashmir. She gives us firsthand information. She gives us informed information. She has a highly perceptive intellect. And she has a keenly feeling heart. And there is a literary beauty (I can’t call it balance) between the two.
I would recommend this book to all Indians particularly because this book is an antithesis of the discourse that dominates the nation today. This book has the potential to open eyes and hearts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

In the Lord’s Name

Book Review
Anyone who is familiar with the Catholic Church will agree that a Reformation is long overdue in it. Too many things are going wrong in it. It is not anything like what Jesus would approve of. The book, Karthavinte Namathil (In the Lord’s Name), is written by a Catholic nun who is facing defrocking because she has questioned too many of the Church’s sins of commission and omission.
The author’s chief complaint is that the nuns are dominated by the priests. Some of them (too many of them, if this book is to be believed) are sexually exploited by the priests too. A nun’s life turns out to be service of the priests in various ways instead of service of the Lord and His people. The author argues for liberation of the nuns from the clutches of priests. She goes a step ahead and demands more personal liberty for the nuns.
I am quite familiar with a lot of priests and nuns and the religious life itself. I was part of the religious system for ten years. In my experience and observation sexual deviations are exceptions rather than rules in the system. I agree that the exceptions seem to be becoming too frequent to be exceptions anymore. Even if they are exceptions, they are serious aberrations and the Church ought to take effective actions against the perpetrators of such offences.
More often than not, the Church goes out of the way to protect the offenders and condemn the victims. For the Church, its public image seems to matter more than the sanctity of the institution. The author does have a very valid point here.
But when it comes to her views on personal liberty, we enter a slippery ground. Ascetic life has many restrictions. Otherwise it wouldn’t be asceticism. All the Catholic priests and nuns are pledged to chastity and obedience. Most of them also take the vow of poverty. Quite many personal desires have to be sacrificed if one wishes to be a priest or a nun.
Sister Lucy, the author, seems to bat for more personal liberty than the system can permit. She published her writings against her superior’s orders. She attended public functions and gave interviews to the media, again disregarding the orders of her congregation. She bought a car, yet another instance of disobedience as well as breach of the vow of poverty.
Of course, the nun has certain valid reasons to offer in her defence. A lot of priests and nuns do all these things. She has been taken to task because her actions hurt the Church, rather the priests, unlike those of her counterparts. Many theologians, brilliant ones too, like Hans Kung, went against the Church’s official teachings occasionally. The Church didn’t forgive them at all. The Church doesn’t forgive easily offences against its well-guarded creeds and dogmas.
I agree with Sister Lucy that the Church should undergo what it calls aggiornamento, making itself more relevant to the times. Many rules and practices which were formulated centuries ago cannot be valid in today’s world. The world has changed so much in the last few decades that the Church’s attitudes towards a nun owning a car, for instance, need be re-examined. Yet if a nun chooses to disregard too many rules, however irrelevant they may be, she doesn’t deserve to be in the system.
Sister Lucy says that she wants to reform the system staying inside. That’s an impossible mission especially when the system is as humungous as the Catholic Church. Otherwise the reformer should possess the vision of a Francis of Assisi or a Clare of Assisi. Sister Lucy belongs to a congregation founded in the names of these two saints. But she lacks their spirit.
Sister Lucy emerges in the book as a very ordinary person who wants to have the best of both the worlds: the religious life and the secular one. She longs to enjoy the security of the convent without having to give up too many comforts of the outside world. This is the reason why her autobiography shies away from any depth. She has little to offer to the reader except some superficial criticism of the Church (though I will never deny that the criticism is valid and deserves much attention) and a passionate defence of herself.
Though it’s an autobiography, the book is written by M K Ramadas, a journalist. The writing is good and makes for interesting reading. I read it in one go, just a few hours. The last 59 pages of the 229-page book constitute an appendix which presents all the letters that changed hands between the author and her superiors. They are of little use to a lay reader.
I gave 3 stars to this book in my Amazon review. I think I have made the reasons clear enough. My autobiography, Autumn Shadows, is available at Amazon as an e-book. The print version will be available soon. A few chapters of the book are about my tryst with the Catholic religious life.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Grow up into Secularism

Jawaharlal Nehru gave India a slightly different version of secularism from what the west practises. Nehru’s secularism not only dissociated politics from religion but also gave full freedom to all religions. In other words, while the west sought to discredit religion altogether, Nehru accepted religions and let them be. But religion should not be a matter of any importance for the government as long as it does not pose any threat to peace, to law and order.
Nehru was not a believer. He was of the opinion that religion prevented the intellect from developing. The religious approach is dogmatic and authoritative. Such approach will breed superstition, bigotry and intolerance. That was Nehru’s view. But he also knew that the majority of Indians would not understand his enlightened view. So he let religions be.
Religion is an infantile need, as psychologist Freud said. Like children needing the constant care of parents, the religious believer seeks god’s protection all the time. The believer refuses to grow up.
To some extent, religion may help people to avoid egoism and cultivate certain virtues. However, religion is not essential for anyone to cultivate any virtue. You can be good if you realise the simple truth that goodness is better than evil. I guess one doesn’t need much brain to understand that. Try spreading goodness around and see the difference, if you still don’t understand. There’s no need of any god for you to be good. Goodness is your choice. Evil is your choice too.
Anyway, with all these religions around the world hasn’t become any better a place to live in. On the contrary, religions seem to make the world a worse place. Look at what is happening in India these days. Just imagine if those two guys who have created a gigantic mess in India now were secular. If they were, probably India would have been the best nation by now.
I have seen good people who are religious too. But I have always felt that they would be good without religion too. Goodness is their choice. God is just a convenient addition.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 304: Is secularism a bad idea in India? #Secularism

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Divine Laws of Troglodytes

Sir Troglodyte

A few thousand years ago, a couple of crooks sat down in a cave and divided people into four groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The crooks placed themselves, their clans who lived in similar caves and their chamchas who lived in lesser caves in the group which they declared as superior to the others who did not have the fortune of owning caves. Even the king and his satellites were subordinated to this superior group because the crooks had invented a fantastic creature called God to supervise all these arrangements.
Then they created about 4000 castes and subcastes. Not contented with all those divisions, the divine crooks [they had ascribed divinity to themselves in the process] put a whole lot of people outside these groups. The Ati-Shudras were subhuman people, according to the crooks’ divine revelations. The Ati-Shudras were again divided: Untouchables, Unseeables and Unapproachables.
The divine crooks decided who would marry whom, who would eat what, whou would wear what, and so on. They even kept their gods out of reach of the lower caste people. Gods are dangerous allies because the crooks had already endowed the gods with all their own vices. The gods craved for blood: human blood. Lower caste human blood, of course.
The gods decided that women of the lower castes should bare their breasts before the upper caste men in daytime, and sleep with the men at night. Untouchability was applicable only in the daytime. Love pollutes; lust purifies: that’s one of the many divine laws.
The gods asked some people to attach spittoons to their necks so that their saliva wouldn’t pollute the soil. Some were to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints. Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, belonged to this caste to waist-broomers.
Today that Constitution is under challenge. Today a couple of crooks sit in air-conditioned caves and write new divine laws.

Monday, December 16, 2019

December Chills

Kerala, where I now live, has three seasons: hot, hotter and hottest. I don’t miss winter anyway, not much at least. I spent my entire youth in Shillong where the winter really chilled people. And winter stretched from October to March, half the year. I detested the cold and yet never thought of leaving the place until the place chucked me out. That’s called destiny.
I never believed in destiny until Shillong’s variegated chills taught lessons the hardest way possible. There’s the chill that the mountains hurl at you mercilessly. Then there’s the chill that the mountain people send down your spine. I had enough of both.
My middle age was spent in Delhi where the winter was far more desirable if only because the summer was starkly unbearable. Delhi’s winters did not chill me much, anyway. The smog was a menace; the chill was a welcome contrast to the summer’s hell.
Now there’s no winter. Right now, at 7 pm in the latter half of December, I sit under a fan after my evening shower. My laptop shows the temperature of my place as 28 degree Celsius.

There’s a chill that’s running down my spine, however. People can give you the chills wherever you are. It’s my country’s government that gives me the chills now. From Kashmir through the Ayodhya verdict to the Citizenship Act, the past few months have been remarkably chilling for me. Hitler’s ghost visits me eerily even in the daytime.
What worries me more than the government’s decisions is the response of a large section of citizens. I go through the comments sections of social medias feeling numbing chills all over my body. I occasionally feel my heart stopping to beat. So much hatred! No, this is not good for any country. I know that my government is an utter failure even when a large section of citizens comment that the government is doing the right thing. If the government is doing the right thing, why is there so much fear in one section of citizens and so much hatred in the other?
Neither fear nor hatred can be good for anyone anywhere. A government that gives little more than these two emotions is wrong, terribly wrong, I know. That’s my December chills now.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 303: The chill that December augurs #DecemberChills

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Citizens of the world

I live in a village in Kerala. When I chose to settle down here over four years ago, my house was constructed by Bengali labourers. Kerala has more than 30 lakh labourers from other states. Quite a lot of them are Bengalis. If you ask them where they are from, they will invariably answer “Kolkata”. Perhaps they are from Bangladesh.
In an excellent article in today’s Time of India, Aakar Patel says that you will find Bangladeshis all over the world. “You can go all the way across Italy from Palermo to Venice speaking only Bangla,” he says. Bangladeshis dominate ‘Indian’ restaurants in England, he goes on. The article titled ‘Akhand Bharat enthusiasts should rewind to Partition’ deserves to be read by every Indian, especially those who support the new Citizenship Act.
The Citizenship Act seeks to divide India further along religious lines. Anyone can easily see that it is particularly anti-Muslim. The BJP and its allies have always hated the Muslims. Their ideology seems to be nothing positive in finer analysis; it’s nothing more than hatred of non-Hindus.
It is true that India was divided along religious lines in 1947. But the great visionaries who created this side of the divided landmass did not seek to establish a theocratic nation. They sought to keep religion separate from politics. Religion and politics mingled in the past and the results were seldom good for anyone. One need not go beyond the brutalities of the medieval period for examples.
Mahatma Gandhi was a devout Hindu. But he would not create a Hindu India at any cost. India belongs to anyone who lives there irrespective of religious, linguistic, cultural differences. Unity is not uniformity. Today’s leaders, those who are quick to defend their gods at the cost of human beings, are taking the nation backward to the medieval darkness.
We live in a world where people migrate and miscegenate more than ever. There are millions of Indians living in other countries. Even the Islamic countries are not asking Indians to leave in spite of what India today is doing to Muslims. It is tragic that Indians in India suffer so much discrimination than Indians in any other country.
National borders are just man-made constructs. They don’t really exist – or are not desirable – except for political and administrative purposes.  We should be citizens of the globe. We belong to humanity more than to imaginary boundaries.
What you do with the power you have reveals your mettle. The present leaders of India are likely to go down in history as people with puny minds and hearts.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Country of Clean Chits

The hunted and the hunter: they are friends today!

The clean chit given to Narendra Modi by the Justice Nanavati Mehta Inquiry Commission does not surprise anyone in India. India is a country of clean chits. Some samples below.
When the post-Godhra riots were  burning Modi’s state in 2002, about seventy Muslims fled in two vans from the village Kiliad on 2 March. Hindutva mobs attired in saffron robes and khaki shorts pursued the vans and killed all the fugitives. Nine men were arrested eventually for the crimes. All of them were given clean chits by Gujarat’s judiciary on 11 Oct 2002. Seven months is pretty fast for any Indian court to arrive at a verdict.
In the same month of October 2002, twenty-one men implicated in the killing of 40 Muslims in Pandarwada during the same riots were given clean chits in two different cases. Yet another instance of rapid judicial action.
One of these men who got the clean chit, Kalubhai Maliwad, was given the BJP ticket in the Gujarat assembly elections that followed the riots. He won too. The killer became the ruler.
These are just a couple of examples. We know many more killers who became bigger rulers. We know how easy it is for certain people to get clean chits from Indian judiciary.
Those clean chits govern the nation today. From demonetisation to CAB, the country has witnessed a series of follies and misdeeds most of which have been crafted with eerie wiliness to decimate particular sections of people. The tragedy is not having such rulers. Many countries had similar rulers and some still have too. The tragedy is that such rulers continue to enjoy popular support.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Two acquittals and a clean chit

Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Gujarat in April 2002, two months after the historic riots in the state. Maulvi Hussain Ibrahim Umarji submitted a representation to the PM on the persecution of Muslims in Gujarat. "Give me details," the PM demanded. "He'd know better," replied the Maulvi pointing at Chief Minister Modi. Within days the Maulvi was arrested on charges of terrorism and arson. 

Siddharth Varadarajan's book, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, presents Umarji as a man who condemned the Godhra incident and participated in peace meetings. But Gujarat's judiciary cast him in jail where he languished for eight years. In 2013, less than two years after his acquittal, at the age of 65, the Maulvi breathed his last. 

Mohammad Hussain Kalota was the president of Godhra municipality when the train was burned at the nearby railway station. He helped to bring the situation under control by coordinating with Bhargava, the police chief, helping the fire brigade to access water from the nearby tube well, and ensuring uninterrupted power supply for the water pump. He was soon arrested on charge of aiding and abetting the arson. He spent nine years in prison before being acquitted in 2011.

Many other Muslims in Gujarat wasted good many years of their life behind the bars on false charges related to the 2002 riots, before being acquitted. Those were days when the judiciary was not an individual's personal possession in India. 

Now in 2019, Justice Nanavati Mehta Inquiry Commission has given the ultimate clean chit to perhaps the mastermind of much of post-Godhra. This is the same Commission that had been parroting the then Gujarat Chief Minister's view that the train incident was a terrorist act. Even parrots shouldn't take 17 years to repeat their Master's words. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

How dare, Uncle Sam!

US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has demanded sanctions against our very own Uncle Roly-Poly for getting the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed with visible vitriol and palpable venom. How dare Uncle Sam do this to our hero of heroes, heartthrob of nationalists, encounter specialist? 

USCIRF and Uncle Sam have no idea how Uncle Roly-Poly is where he is now. 1.3 billion Indians (our Emperor would put the figure at 7 billion) elected him to power after he had proven his merits over Babur and Aurangzeb, General Dyer and Herr Hitler through mass murders and encounter killings. 

And strategies that give Chanakya and Machiavelli a run for their money. Strategies like partition of Kashmir and creation of the Ayodhya Temple. 

He will soon give us spiritual orgasm with the creation of one nation with one religion. Aawwww! What an ecstatic country will that be with oneness everywhere! Advaita. Aham Brahmasmi. Tatvam Asi. Osho's orgasm of egolessness. 

Uncle Sam, you are a silly Quixote or Rushdie's Quichotte if you fantasise imposing anything at all on our own Uncle Bumblebum. Remember the sanctions you imposed on our King after the 2002 Gujarat riots? That man ended up visiting your country every two months soon after he made his Ashwamedha in Indraprastha?

We are indestructible. It's no more the old days when you guys invaded our territories with gun in one hand and Hollywood in the other. We are the Superpower now. What if jobs are being lost and foods are getting beyond the reach of citizens? Our GDP is taking frogleaps. We will soon impose sanctions on you. Mind your own business. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Plastic and we

In the autumn of 2004, I made my first trek in the Garhwal Himalayas along with a group of students. Hemkund at a height of 4600 metres was our destination. We started our trek from Govind Ghat on a fine morning with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. It was a two-day trek with a stopover at Ghangaria. We took in the mesmerising charms of the Himalayas as we plodded on the weary way. In the afternoon of the first day, a few hundred metres down Ghangaria, we were stunned by something that was just incredible. A whole mountain of plastic bottles and plastic waste lay in the course of the Laxman Ganga.
Starting off from Govind Ghat, Maggie and I
Most of the trekkers were pilgrims, people who went to pray at the Gurudwara atop the peak after taking a holy dip in the icy lake. What kind of spirituality is it that failed to teach people a basic respect for the planet?
We have so many beautiful slogans which are going to save everything from the rivers to the mountains, the planet itself. Save the trees, save the whales, save the snails, and what not. But just take a look around and you’ll be amazed by what you see. No one is saving anything. Our slogans sound so hollow. They are hollow.
Two years ago Kerala was buffeted by tremendous rains and floods. The two rivers that flow through my village were inundated. When the waters receded eventually, what remained on the banks of the rivers was an incredible mass of plastic. Plastic bottle and carry-bags covered the entire banks on both sides. It was a terrifying sight.
The experience taught the state a lesson, however. The Panchayats in the state swung into action and now there is a well-oiled machinery for collecting plastic waste from every household and sending it to the shredder.
Shredding is not the best solution. Why not reduce the use of plastic? I carry a shopping bag so that I can avoid some of the plastic at least that shopkeepers give us generously. Everything from food items to furniture comes in plastic.
Maybe, every religion should make it a sin to use plastic unless it is unavoidable. Will that work? I don’t know. I don’t see religions working anywhere. Yet they could try to be useful this way at least. Some awareness will descend on people, perhaps.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Religious Masks

A teacher narrated her woe to me today. There are two girls in her class who belong to a particular religion and wear the headgear that the religion has draped them with. They now wish to participate in a dance that the class is putting up for a function. The girls offered themselves for the dance and the teacher was in a dilemma. She had a bad experience when she asked the girls to remove their headgear for a particular programme in which all participating girls had to wear the same uniform dress. The girls not only refused to do what the teacher asked but also brought their parents the next morning to squabble about their religious rights and privileges.
“How do I convince them either to wear the dress required for the dance which implies they remove their headgear or to stay away from the dance?” The teacher asked me.
I was helpless. The country has become so viciously communalised that it is impossible to convince people that their religion is not their headgear or some such trivial symbol.
People belonging to a particular religion in India today have become very defensive (and offensive at the same time – defence and offence are two sides of the same coin) because of insecurity feelings. I don’t deny that they have been unnecessarily aggressive for most part of their religious history. It is probably that aggressiveness and concomitant ferocity that brought upon them the present backlash from the majority community in the country.
Savagery is not the prerogative of any particular religion, however. People have fought in the name of their gods irrespective of religions. Religion seems to make people aggressive necessarily. Religion belongs to the savage side of human nature. Religion is a mask put on that savage side.
There is no way anyone can cure that savagery. Except to counsel people to get rid of their religion, or to treat it as just another social meme, a fad, or something that has to be endured.  We can’t obviously give such counsel to young students. Youngsters should go through the inevitable process of growing up into maturity by being part of certain familial and social systems before they accept or reject any of those systems. Religion is one such system.
“Why don’t you give the girls some roles in the dance where the headgear becomes part of the roles?” I asked. I suggested that in the given situation today it is better to let the headgear be. If you touch it, fire and brimstone will descend from the supernatural realms of scriptures and strictures.
The headgear is just another of the masks that today’s savage religions have imposed on people. There are plenty of them masks that all the “jerks” put on [to use a term employed by Salman Rushdie in his latest novel Quichotte for today’s people who have compromised their goodness and virtue].
Jerks, that’s who we live with today. Don’t touch their masks.

PS. I had a girl student a few years back who used to remove her headgear the moment she stepped into the security of the school campus and put it back on the moment she stepped out. She was a rebel. She wrote amazingly deep poems. She inspired one of my short stories: Shahina lets her hair down.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Quichotte disappoints

Book Review

Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Quichotte, is too clever to entertain, let alone become a classic. There are too many allusions to contemporary politics and (other) entertainments such as movies and the TV. Quite many of them are likely to remain beyond the comprehension of even knowledgeable readers. A few years from now some of these allusions will be plainly obsolete. Who likes to google every other minute while reading a novel?
Rushdie’s Quichotte goes cranky from watching TV shows just as his classical namesake, Quixote, goes mad from reading the chivalric romances of his time. Quichotte’s quest is for Selma R, a talk-show star. The feelings and desires in the shrivelled heart of old man Quichotte are stirred by the charming star of Indian origin. Quichotte is the pseudonym of a medical rep of Indian origin who loses his job right when his crazy romance begins.
Quichotte is not real. He is the fictional creation of an Indian-born spy novelist who longs to write something different. Moreover, this fictitious protagonist has an unreal son named Sancho: illusion within fiction which is itself story within a story!
Quichotte’s quest is quite similar to his creator’s who longs to re-establish his relationships with his sister as well as his son both of whom were estranged years ago. Broken relationships is a very relevant theme in our times.
We live in broken times too and Rushdie efficiently captures the images of those fragments. But is he successful in stirring the imagination of the reader? I doubt. The novel is too cerebral to appeal to the imagination. It is a kind of scholarly polemic that is founded on bizarre satire: a strange mix.
Quichotte presents the human race as a kind of perverted species, “or perhaps deluded, about its own nature.” Human species has “become so accustomed to wearing its masks that it has grown blind to what lies beneath”.  The reality is dreadful beyond words.
Rushdie has invented a new lingo, a new expression to present that post-truth reality which should ideally force every person to ask him-/herself the question: “Am I a man or am I a jerk?”
Quichotte’s quest is in the end not just a romantic, chivalric, cranky, quixotic exercise, it appears. In his own words, it is a quest for his “own compromised goodness and virtue”. And he is not just a superannuated medical representative, but a representative of the human race that seems to have lost “its reason, its capacity for ethics, its goodness, its soul.”
The novel’s theme is very relevant. But I wonder how many readers will appreciate the narrative. Missing the wood for the trees is not a very rewarding experience.

PS. All quotes are from the novel.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019



The Prime Minister was addressing the nation on the TV when Carlos walked into the Regional Transport Office. “By the year 2024, all duplicate citizens in the country will be deported,” the PM said with his characteristic aplomb and histrionics.
“I lost my driving license,” Carlos said to the man at the enquiry counter. “What should I do?”
“You need to apply for a duplicate license,” the man helped. “Do you have a copy of your license?”
“Not a hard copy,” Carlos said. “I have this.” He showed the digital license he had downloaded in Digilocker on his mobile phone.
“You should meet the MVI [Motor Vehicles Inspector] there.” The man pointed to a cubicle where an elderly man was sitting with a pile of papers in front.
Carlos showed his digital license and sought assistance.
“This is not a valid license,” the man said taking Carlos’s mobile phone and peering at the screen. “Your license was issued in 2017 when the number system was different. How did you get this license?”
“From Digilocker. Automatic download.”
The man shook his head as if he was suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.
“You don’t have a hard copy of your license?” The man asked condescending to look at Carlos.
“I’m sorry, no.”
The man pulled the keyboard of his desktop and banged on some keys. Then he picked up a piece of wastepaper from the dustbin and wrote a number. “This is your license number. But your address falls under another RTO. So you have to apply for the DL particulars first.”
“Pardon,” said Carlos. He had no idea what deeyel was.
The man wrote ‘DL particulars’ on the scrap paper and thrust it towards Carlos with a wave of hand that indicated, ‘Now get lost from here.’ He returned to the pile of papers.
Carlos walked to the inquiry once again and asked how to apply for deeyel particulars.
“Go to Akshaya,” the man at the inquiry said.
Carlos had noticed the Akshaya centre right opposite the RTO because of the large crowd in it. He soon merged into the crowd. It took a couple of hours before the application for deeyel particulars materialised in the form of some printed sheets which he carried with much fervour to the RTO. He had paid Rs 110 for that precious document.
“The time is over for accepting application for deeyel particulars,” said the lady to whom the inquiry man had directed Carlos.
“Should I come tomorrow?” Carlos asked pathetically. The lady concealed her Dunning-Kruger effect and mumbled, “There’s a fast track counter there which will open after 2 o’clock. You can try there.”
No one appeared at the fast track counter until 3 pm. The lady who appeared behind the grill seemed to be a personification of the Dunning-Kruger effect. “Come at 4.30,” she said curtly.
Carlos placed himself on a chair outside the office and watched men and women walking up and down in the office with papers in hands. Papers and papers in the hands of Dunning-Kruger effects. In a world that had become digital.
Carlos began to feel that he was an impostor. He had not heard of impostor syndrome, however.
The air in the office as well as the enclosed courtyard where Carlos was sitting smelled curiously musty and mushy. It had the effect of some drug on Carlos. He felt intoxicated. He enjoyed sitting there. He thought he enjoyed sitting there. He began to do pranayama the way that Baba Ramdev taught to do on the TV.
It was almost 5 pm when Carlos was woken up by a man who asked, “Are you Carlos K?”
Carlos K rushed to the fast track counter feeling immensely guilty for his drugged delay.
“I’m sorry,” he apologised to the lady at the fast track counter.
“Just a minute,” mumbled the lady.
Carlos waited.
Continued to wait.
Dunning-Krugers were shutting down their desktops, shutting files, shutting shelves, shutting and shutting.
“Here,” the lady handed him a single sheet of paper whose first line was a caption, ‘Driving License Particulars’. “You have to take this to your RTO.” The lady shut the counter after that.
“My RTO!” Carlos was amused.
He felt giddy as he walked out of the RTO into the fresh air outside.
Carlos was at his RTO the next morning.
“You need to fill up the application for a duplicate license,” he was advised by the new Dunning-Kruger.
Another Akshaya. Another crowd. Another wait. Another bunch of papers that cost him Rs600.
“Meet the MVI.” A new order.
“How did you lose your license?” MVI asked.
Carlos was an impostor. He didn’t know how he had lost his driving license.
“Did you check all the possible places?”
“Yes.” He had checked even the impossible places.
“All right. You’ll have to apply now for the change of address at that last counter.”
“Change of address? But my address has not changed.”
MVI peered over his spectacles. “The address of your RTO has changed, hasn’t it? You have to pay the fees for that.”
Another Dunning-Kruger now. At the last counter. “Can’t you see I’m dealing with another case. Wait.”
Carlos had not seen the other ‘case’. But wait he did.
“You haven’t attached the envelope for sending your license.” Dunning-Kruger said when her other ‘case’ had been dealt with and she had snatched Carlos’s bunch of papers.
Carlos went to Akshaya which he thought was the ultimate remedy for all lacunae.
“Rs50,” Akshaya said handing him an envelope.
Carlos rushed back to his RTO which also had the same musty, mushy smell as the other RTO that was not his.
“You haven’t written your phone number on the envelope,” Dunning-Kruger said looking at the address that Carlos had written as instructed by Akshaya.
“Can I borrow that pen?” Carlos asked picking up Dunning-Kruger’s pen from her desk.
“I need it.” She protested.
“I’ll return it. Just a moment, please.” Carlos-the-impostor pleaded.
“Should I pin the envelope along with the papers?” Carlos asked as he placed the lady’s pen near her stapler.
“I’ll do it,” she said grabbing the stapler before Carlos could lay his hands on it.
“Pay Rs 260.”
Paperwork in a digital world is quite expensive, thought Carlos as he pulled out his wallet.
“You will get your duplicate license by post,” Dunning-Kruger said handing him the receipt for the money he paid. “The word duplicate will be printed on it. It will be there now till the end of your life.”
“Thank god I’m old,” Carlos mumbled.
“What?” Dunning-Kruger was not amused. “It is up to God to decide your lifespan.”
Carlos saw himself smile. “Dunning-Kruger is more powerful than god,” he said.
The woman stared at him. Carlos didn’t see the stare since he had turned to walk out into the fresh air outside where he knew he would feel giddy for a while.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Unsocial Media

Social media is one of the most entertaining places for people like me who don’t know how to deal with real societies. I love going through the comments appended to well-written articles whose links are given in Facebook and Twitter – the only two social medias I’m fairly active at. The comments massacre the very spirit of the article concerned. I wonder whether any of the commenters actually read the articles.
How many bhakts, devotees, pilgrims, retreat-goers, or the like, have actually read the scriptures for which they fight tooth and nail on real as well as virtual platforms?
Do people read anymore?
But, be sure, they write. And they write copiously. Social media is full of copious writers.
Does that make it an unsocial place really? I won’t answer that affirmatively. If you restrict your friends’ circles to a few, you get the kind of societies you like. I hope so. But I have accepted friendship requests indiscriminately just because it’s all virtual and I don’t mind the entertainment.
It doesn’t entertain really. It nauseates most of the time. But my entertainment is that nausea which is a constant reminder of the world’s standards. It is a good warning for me. A warning against stepping out into the real world.
In the real world, I stay put in my house and workplace. Shut off. Self-imposed imprisonment. The social media sustains that imprisonment.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition  301: Is social media making people more unsocial? #SocialMedia

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Don’t be good for God’s sake

“Why be good if there is no God?” A young man who is familiar with my religious views asked me yesterday.
“What has goodness got to do with god?” I asked. “Aren’t you diminishing yourself when you are being good merely for god’s sake?”
I explained that goodness is our duty to ourselves as well as the humanity. “When we are good, we create a better world. Creating that better world is our duty.”
“Duty given by whom?” The young man persisted.
“By our intelligence. Intelligence tells us that good is better than bad for all. For all creatures and the planet and the cosmos.”
“Who decides what is good and what is evil?”
“We decide. You and I. Goodness promotes the welfare of other creatures. The problem with our gods is that they tend to promote the welfare of particular communities.”
“Perhaps certain people misuse the gods for such purposes. Gods themselves cannot be so parochial.”
I smiled.
“I didn’t understand,” the young man said.
“The meaning of that smile.”
“Our gods are all created in our own images.”
He smiled. Unhappily.

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...