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Showing posts from December, 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 p

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

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 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

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 experien

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 ti

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 w

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 sho

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

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

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 th

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. 

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 plan

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

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


Fiction 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 t

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

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. “What?” “The meaning of that s