Friday, February 28, 2020

If wishes were horses...

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side.
If "if's" and "and's" were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.

Wishes belong frightfully to nursery rhymes. The rhymist knows that wishes are granted only in fairy tales. Real life is about turnips and heartburns. 

When I was young, I longed to be a writer. Not an ordinary one. A great writer. Another Shakespeare. Or a Bernard Shaw, at least. Life mocked at that and taught me great lessons and my wishes fell by the wayside and died with subdued whimpers.

For some reason that's beyond my understanding, I never had simple wishes like good people. For example, the wish to become a doctor or an engineer never crossed the threshold of my ambition's horizon. The career which I pursued and has continued all my life descended on me rather accidentally, quite like a wayward meteor hitting an unsuspecting planet. I'm completing three-and-a-half decades of teaching. And the truth is I had never imagined myself as a teacher. 

Your wish doesn't matter much, it seems. Life has its own ways. Maybe, I was an aberrant meteor myself, one which lost its orbit long ago and started hurtling along aimlessly in the endless cosmos. Now, like the philandering Marvell, I hear at my back time's winged chariot hurrying near. The object of my pursuit is not any coy mistress, however. It is some place somewhere. Some place that beckons me with a siren's song. A journey is in the offing. The wish gallops in my consciousness like a restless horse.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 314: 


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Shadow Lines of Nationalism

Blood is the inevitable price you pay to earn your place in your country. The narrator's grandmother in Amitav Ghosh's novel, The Shadow Lines, says that. Maybe you don't pay it yourself, your parents or grandparents or their uncles did. People draw their national borders with blood. That bloodshed is a religion for people. 

India seems to be getting ready for another national sacrifice. If the freedom fighters of yesteryears paid that price for all Indians, today's nationalists are doing it in order to snatch the country from certain religious communities. "India belongs to Indians" was the old slogan. The new one is, "India belongs to Hindus."

It's about territory anyway. This territory belongs to me and people I consider mine. Like the beasts in the forests, we mark out our frontiers. This is my den, keep out or else you're doomed. Nationalist slogans bear the tang of the wild growls in primitive enclosures. 

National borders are shadow lines, but. Amitav Ghosh shows that in the novel mentioned above. Khulna in Bangladesh is not quite hundred miles from Calcutta as the crow flies. But the two cities face each other at a watchful equidistance across the border. 

Put the leg of your compass on Calcutta and draw a circle. More foreign cities will fall inside than Indian ones. Your circle will pass through Thailand and Vietnam and Laos and... 

Who drew the shadow lines between nations? How much more blood should those shadows suck? Who decides who belong to which side of the lines? 

When the shadows of your life lengthen in the twilight that will come sooner or later, maybe a realisation will rise from those shadows: you can't take the conquered territory with you. What you gave is what will accompany you. The only sacrifice worth making is your own: self-sacrifice. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Is this the India we want?

A mosque under siege in Delhi


If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. This is what Delhi is doing now. This has happened elsewhere too. Gujarat 2002 is a glaring example. The people who masterminded the riots then are in power now in Delhi. We know what their intentions are. We can’t expect them to work out solutions. When the leaders of a country don’t want solutions, the situation is catastrophic.
Catastrophe is what awaits the nation. If you watch the videos that appear on the social media now, you will undoubtedly notice one thing: the hatred in the eyes of the perpetrators of violence. Hatred is what has driven our prominent leaders ever since they entered politics. Hatred can never do good to anyone, let alone a nation.
So what’s the solution? We, the people, are the only solution. If we decide not to be fooled by the jargon that our leaders and their mindless followers dish out, if we decide to be sane and rational, if we opt for peace and development, the solution will arrive easily.
Otherwise, the problem will spread all over the country. Don’t think you are safe just because you belong to a particular religious community or because you live in a particular region. No, you won’t be safe once this sort of violence spreads. We have ample examples.
Sit down and think for a while. We can create a great nation if we want. Religions don’t matter at all if it is a great nation that you want. Let religion stay where it should: temples, mosques, and so on. Let god reside where he/she/it should: in your heart. A nation’s concern should be progress and development, welfare of its people. Whatever does not help to bring welfare to the people irrespective of their religious faiths or faithlessness is not going to do any good in the long run.
People who perpetrate violence in the name of gods are not religious. No way. They are just criminals. Do you want to support criminals? Or do you want to be a sane human being? It’s your choice.

#DelhiRiots 



Monday, February 24, 2020

Makers of History

Fiction

When Sumit put up one of his old snaps on his Facebook timeline, he was only relishing nostalgia for a moment. Or maybe, he wanted a few likes from his virtual friends. Political writing was ignored by people these days like the plague. Politics in the  country had become kind of plague. 

He tagged David to the pic. In fact, David had clicked that photo and Sumit wanted to give him the credit. Or maybe, Sumit wanted at least one person, the tagged one, to take note of the pic. 

David was too quick to distance himself from the tag. "Did I click that picture? I don't remember. I was never so close to you," he texted in Whatsapp. 

"Don't you remember?" Sumit asked in disbelief. How can he forget it? It was the day when Sharmila Chakraborty, their classmate, had spent a whole day in David's rented room whose door remained closed all the while they were together. 

Sumit and David lived in nearby rooms both of which were rented from one Hiren Barua whose main job was to construct cubicles in his little plot of land on the outskirts of Guwahati and give them on rent to students and migrant labourers. "Only one person per room," that was his only commandment. 

"Saala, why do you mention Sharmila? She came for a combined study. Remember it was just a couple of days before our final exams?" David asked. "The door was closed because we didn't want Hiren Barua to question us with his single occupant commandment."

Well, it could never be as innocent as that, Sumit was sure. David had boasted many times, while the two of them shared a few drinks on weekends, about his varied sexual conquests. David worked in a small town in Meghalaya as a teacher for a year or two before he decided to do B.Ed. so that he would be professionally qualified for the job. "I have tried girls from all the tribes available there," he told Sumit on one of those wild evenings. "Each one has a unique flavour, a unique style of doing it." After adding some salacious details he said, "I want to taste a Bengali girl next. I'm sure the Bengali women are tigresses when it comes to the real game." That was just a week or so before Sumit saw Sharmila Chakraborty, their classmate, walk into David's room whose door closed behind her in absolute surrender to Hiren Barua's commandment.

All that was long ago. Those were days when the state of Assam had just confronted the monstrous visage of nationalism by killing more than two thousand migrant Bangladeshi Muslims to whom Indira Gandhi had decided to give voting rights. Now Narendra Modi was repeating Indira's history with a twist: he would legalise all immigrants in Assam except the Muslims. 

There's some poetic justice even in the repetition of history, mused Sumit. 

Sumit and David had parted ways after their B.Ed. David married a Goan Catholic whom he first met on a train and settled down in Bombay which eventually became Mumbai in one of the umpteen comic twists in the country's history.  Sumit returned to his home state of Kerala and found a job in one of the government-aided schools by paying a huge bribe to the management. 

Facebook brought them together after many, many years. A lot of history was written and rewritten in those years. A lot of people were killed as part of those writings and rewritings. A lot of migration and miscegenation took place. The children born to husbands and wives belonging to different regions and religions looked and behaved like any other normal children. 

Yet the new leader wanted a new history. He stepped into a mired pool he called nationalism. He riled its waters. He fished in those riled waters. But he was a vegetarian. He claimed so at least. He knew how to make new histories.

Donald Trump was claiming historicity for his visit to India when Sumit sat in the waiting room of Cochin Airport. Trump said that ten million Indians would be there to welcome him in Ahmedabad. "That's what Mr Modi has promised me. This is a historic event." Didn't Mr Trump know that Mr Modi creates new histories? He could have at least googled the population of Ahmedabad. 

"Hi, aren't you Sumit?"

Sumit looked at the interrogator once again. "Sharmila Chakraborty?"

"Glad to be recognized." She sat next to Sumit. 

Memories were brought alive. Were they the truths? How much of your own life do you remember accurately? Doesn't time add colours and patterns to memories? 

How reliable is history? 

"David once told me about how the two of you visited a brothel in Ulubari," said Sharmila.

Sumit felt a tremor run down his spine. 

"He was testing you, that's what David told me," Sharmila carried on. "He wanted to know whether you were as righteous as you pretended to be. He just sat there outside smoking a cigarette while you had your fling inside."

Another history? Why did he have to tell you all that anyway, Sharmila? 

Sumit didn't have the guts to ask that, however. 

"I don't trust him but," Sharmila was saying. "The cunning little bastard. He called me to his room once to explain Bloom's taxonomy and ended up discovering the taxonomy of my organs." And she laughed.

Narendra Modi was hugging Donald Trump on the TV screen in front of them. 

"Isn't there something artificial about their smiles?" Sumit asked.

"They're making a new history, aren't they?" Sharmila laughed again. 

"You want to know what happened with me in that brothel that evening?" Sumit asked.

She stopped laughing. 

"Nothing. Because I had an erectile dysfunction." 

Sharmila hesitated between an apology and a laughter.  

"It's okay but..." Sumit fumbled. "I mean it was a temporary problem, one of the infinite lacunae in history."

Sharmila stared at him for a moment before bursting out into another ringing laughter. "History's lacunae are more interesting, Sumit. The actual truths lie there."


Friday, February 21, 2020

Sectarian Virus

The latest statue in India
Image from Orissa Diary


“True religion is not talk, or doctrines, or theories, nor is it sectarianism. It is the relation between soul and God. Religion does not consist in erecting temples, or building churches, or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books, or in words, or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. We must realize God, feel God, see God, talk to God. That is religion.
Swami Vivekananda said that long ago. Sectarianism was a virus that ate into the Indian psyche in those days too. We choose to call it communalism. Communalism is the wrong word. The word ‘communal’ does not have a negative meaning in English except in India. What Indians mean by the word is actually ‘sectarian’, dividing people into factions, while ‘communal’ is about sharing and caring among members of a community.
“Class divide, Chauvinism, Social media validation, Alarming increase of criminals in politics, Lack of civic sense and so on.... there's something toxic everywhere around you. So what is that one toxic thing you want to get rid of?” This is the question raised by fellow blogger Amit Pattnaik at Indispire this week. Sectarianism is the most pernicious virus in India even today, I think.
If corruption was the hallmark of the Congress party, sectarianism is that of the BJP. Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of his state for 12 long years and now he has been the Prime Minister of the country for six years. 18 years of power. And what has he achieved? He still has to build tall and long walls to conceal the poverty and misery in his country as well as his state from a visiting foreign dignitary! [How dignified is that dignitary is a different question.] Obviously there’s something terribly wrong.
Sectarianism is that wrong.
Mr Modi has made India a much worse place than it ever was with his sectarian attitudes and vision. He wants to create a religious nation, a nation in which one particular religion has supremacy over others. For that he has played with the religious sentiments of 1.3 billion people. He continues to play with those sentiments. He will continue to do that until his vision is materialised or until he is evicted from his post, the latter of which isn’t anywhere near in sight. Millions of people have been hoodwinked by the pie in the sky that Mr Modi has been pointing at for a long time now. Those millions will hold him in his present position for years to come. India will continue to build walls, both literally and metaphorically.
We shall have a fair share of comic reliefs in between. Like some gargantuan statues whose feet alone can give shade to homeless wanderers. The Irish politician David Trimble spoke about a dark shadow that stretched across his country. He said it was the “shadow of the mountain behind – a shadow from the past thrown forward into our future. It is a dark sludge of historical sectarianism.”
Religious sectarianism is the dark shadow that Mr Modi has gifted the nation. “We can leave it behind us if we wish,” as Trimble said again. If we don’t leave it behind, we are choosing degeneration and disintegration.

PS. Prompted by Indispire Edition 313: #ThrowAwayTheToxic

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Celestial Bodies: Review


Book Review

“Do you love me, Mayya?” Abdallah asks his wife. “She was startled.... She said nothing and then she laughed. She laughed out loud, and the tone of it irritated me.” Mayya thinks that such words as love belong to TV shows. In real life, no one talks about love. Abdallah remembers that on their wedding day Mayya had not laughed. She did not even smile.
Mayya didn’t want to marry Abdallah. Ali was her man. Ali had returned from London though without securing a diploma. The diploma didn’t matter really, London mattered. Mayya wanted to escape from her village and go and live in the city of Muscat. Ali was a symbol of that aspiration. Eventually she names her daughter London. She will have her London one way or another in spite of the fact that she belongs to a patriarchal Islamic system.
Most of the characters of Jokha Alharthi’s novel, Celestial Bodies, which won the Man Booker International Prize 2019, belong to rural Oman. Love is their quintessential longing. What does love mean especially in rigidly traditional, patriarchal system? The novel explores that theme primarily.
“What do you really know about love?” London will ask her mother one day. What does anyone know about love, in fact, especially in a system that keeps them all suppressed with all sorts of regulations and traditions? The novel seeks to probe love and its role through the experiences of three women as well as quite many other lesser characters. The three women are Mayya and her sisters, Asma and Khawla.
While Mayya surrenders to her fate silently as a dutiful wife who bears children for her husband and sleeps away blissfully when the children don’t require her attention, her sisters have their own discontents. Asma marries Khalid, a self-obsessed artist who decides the circle within which his wife can move. Khawla waits seemingly endlessly for her cousin who had gone to Canada as a boy for studying and does not return. Finally he has to return because he is a total failure there. She marries him. But he was only interested in the money he got from the marriage. He has his own girlfriend in Canada to whom he returns. He visits Khawla annually, however, and gives her a child during each visit. Having borne 14 children dutifully, Khawla confronts the absurdity of such a life and seeks divorce.
The novel spans over almost a century and hence there are a lot more characters, too many for a short novel of 243 pages. The author has experimented with a new narrative technique with Abdallah narrating every alternative chapter while the other chapters are dedicated to the other characters by an omniscient third-person narrator. The technique makes the novel a little difficult to understand initially because the onus for putting together varied and apparently disjointed pieces of information given in different chapters falls entirely on the reader.
Even the minor characters are interesting, however. Najiya who is also known as Qamar (Moon) is a beautiful young Bedouin woman with great aplomb. In a society that is controlled entirely by the men, she chooses her man, chooses to seduce him and even use him as she pleases. “Azzan will be mine,” she says, “but I won’t be his. He’ll come to me when I want him, and he’ll go away when I say so.” Azzan, the father of the three girls mentioned above, bites the bait.
Ankabuta belongs to a previous generation and she is a slave woman whose daring gets her imprisoned. She is kept in a cell which is visited twice each day: once in the day for feeding her and once in the night by her husband who ties her limbs to the bedposts and gags her mouth with his turban cloth before raping her.
“What do you really know about love?” London’s question echoes throughout the novel. London will grow up, become a doctor and fall in love with a young man of her choice breaking the traditional shackles. But will she succeed in discovering real love?
The novel has a lot more to offer in an exceptionally sleek volume. The Booker has drawn the attention of a lot of readers to the novel. The novel deserves to be read too not only to get clear glimpses into the society of Oman but also to understand how the patriarchal system evolved in that country. 


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Elephant’s Religion



Fiction

“How can a Muslim elephant enter a Hindu temple?” Surendran fulminated.
An elephant named Ibrahim Koya was part of the parade of elephants that was held as a traditional part of the temple festival. Ibrahim Koya belonged to Mohamad Koya who had named the elephant after one of his legendary ancestors who was said to have brought to control a mammoth tusker that was in heat just by standing in front of it and holding its trunk with one of his hands. The other hand gestured to the elephant to kneel down obediently. The elephant in heat obeyed very faithfully. Mohamad Koya bought an elephant in honour of that legendary ancestor and named it after him too.
“What’s wrong with this fellow?” Murali wondered to Sukumaran. Yesterday only the three of them were sitting in the restaurant eating paratha with beef roast. How did Surendran become such a fervent Hindu today?
“Maybe, he wants to become the Governor of Mizoram or something,” said Sukumaran. Surendran had joined the local shakha of RSS recently and was becoming more and more active in it.
“Do elephants have religion?” Someone asked.
“With a name like Ibrahim Koya, what do you think this creature’s religion is?” Surendran’s religious sentiments were obviously deeply hurt.
Someone had called the police in the meanwhile.
“It’s not a Muslim elephant, sir,” said Velu, the mahout. “It’s a Hindu elephant. All elephants in India are Hindus just as all cows in India are Hindus.” Velu was afraid he would lose his job unless he defended his elephant. Temple festivals are the only sources of income left now for owners of elephants.
“How do you prove that it’s a Hindu elephant, with a name like that?” The sub-inspector asked.
“Look at his dick, sir,” Velu said, “it’s not circumcised. How can any male be Muslim unless he is circumcised?” Velu sounded smart.
“That’s true,” mused the SI.
“Sir,” Velu was encouraged to add more.
“Yes,” the SI turned to him.
“Sir, now even trains are Hindus in India.”
“What!”
“Yes, sir. Just yesterday only our prime minister flagged off the Kashi Mahakal Express with a temple for Lord Shiva built into a compartment. The train will have Hindu bhajans playing all through the journey. What an idea, Sirji! We now have Hindu trains. Soon every Tom and Dick in India will be Hindu, Sir…”
The SI wiggled out of the crowd. He was not sure whether he was a Hindu. His name was Tom Jose. It was pinned on his shirt pocket too. But Surendran could not read, thankfully.

PS. Another similar story: Halley's Fishes


Friday, February 14, 2020

Offspring of the Jungle

Source: Skeptical Science


Charles Darwin didn’t coin the phrase ‘Survival of the fittest’. It was coined by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer who was a contemporary of Darwin. But Spencer owed to Darwin for the phrase. “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Darwin has called natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” That’s what Spencer wrote in his book, Principles of Biology.
Spencer rephrased Darwin. The meaning is the same: survival of the fittest = natural selection. Nature selects the best and abandons the rest. Life is a struggle in which the fittest win and the others lose. That’s quite the law of the jungle.
In the jungle every creature is born to run, as Christopher McDougall put it in his book, Born to Run. “Every morning in Africa,” he wrote, “a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Run or perish. Be fit or be killed. That’s the law of the jungle. If the lions have a religion, its first commandment would be: Thou shalt run faster than the slowest gazelle. Who would be its god? A monster with sharp fangs and claws with blood dripping from its snarling mouth? Would the gazelles have worshipped an image of the lion in their temples?
Gods belong to civilisation, not nature. Civilisation is a creation of the animal that was endowed with a more elaborate and complex imagination. This complex animal imagined itself as superior to the other animals and created gods and commandments in order to tame its inner savagery which far surpassed the blood lust of the other animals. The other animals hunted for food usually. Some minor rivalries occurred here and there, no doubt. But by and large, the animals were driven by hunger. They killed for food. Preying is not killing, their first commandment would have read.
The human beings created a lot of commandments, but went on to break every one of them as and when he liked. He remained a beast far worse than his counterparts in the jungle in spite of his numerous gods. He killed for his gods. He killed for his sexual appetites. He killed for paper pieces that he called currency. He killed for truisms that he called ideologies. He killed for anything from greed to jealousy to lust to nationalism. And then he blamed the animals in the jungle for savagery.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Two Sins

Fiction 

The roar of the waves shattered the silence of the midnight. The tide was high. The full moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky. 

Joel sat down on the evasive sand trying to immerse the rage within his heart in the rage of the Arabian Ocean. It didn't take much long for him to notice the figure that was lying at a little distance. It was a man. He was lying on his back. Curiosity made Joel get up, walk towards the figure and sit near him after watching him for a while. Was he sleeping? 

Excuse me, said Joel. 

The man opened his eyes. He considered Joel for a moment and then sat up. 

I'm a traveller, said Joel introducing himself, staying in that hotel. He pointed towards a large  building a stone's throw away. 

I'm Amit, the man said listlessly. Usually no one comes to the beach at this time, he said after a while as if he was annoyed with Joel's presence.

I didn't mean to disturb you, Joel said. I couldn't sleep. So I took a walk.

What is stealing your sleep? 

My hypocrisy, answered Joel.

What? 

I was walking through my hometown last week when I saw a Muslim man of the nearby village being beaten up by some Hindu men. I knew many of them. Yet I didn't dare to approach them. I let them kill that man. 

What could you have done? 

I should have interfered. It was my duty to do so.

Why? 

I'm a pastor. 

That's sort of priest, right? 

Yeah. 

You think they'd have listened to you? 

No.

Then.

It was my duty to try.

Well.

My entire life became a lie at that moment when I chose to walk away from that scene. 

Amit didn't say anything. He seemed to be thinking of something. 

Have you ever faced a situation like that?  It's terrible to realise that your life was just a sham, a pretence, sheer make-believe. 

You're a priest, right? 

Hm.

You can absolve sins, can't you? 

I belong to a sect that doesn't have confession. We seek forgiveness directly from God.

Still let me make a confession. 

If you wish.

I was there too at that site when that man was lynched.

Oh!

I was not a mere observer like you.

Then? 

I was one of the killers. 

The Arabian Ocean roared loud. 

One act can be repented, Joel said. The rest of your life can be the atonement. 

I'm not sure, Amit said. There's a man within me who's angry with me.

That anger sustains my hypocrisy. Joel didn't say that. 

I'm a coward, Joel said.

The Arabian Ocean roared relentlessly. 






Monday, February 10, 2020

A Requiem for my cat

I buried him yesterday morning. His body was found lying dead and cold on the roadside. A speeding vehicle had killed him in the night. 

He walked into our life as a little kitten five months ago. Someone had abandoned him on the roadside when the autumn sky was turning dark. He walked towards the only light he saw, the one outside our house. Maggie and I were baffled a bit. He was too small, would he survive? That was our worry. We had no choice anyway but adopt him. Thus he became our Kunju, the Little One. 

He stole our hearts with his playfulness. He would climb into our laps and make himself comfortable there for as long as it pleased him. When Maggie worked in the kitchen he would jump up behind her and untie her apron knot. He thought we were his playmates. We allowed him to use us as such. We loved the game as much as he did. 

We miss him immensely. Memories don't die. Even a cat refuses to die from memories. "Kunju has made you a different man," my friend said once. He was right. I learnt to be like a little boy when I spent time with Kunju. That was Kunju's gift to me: purification of my heart. 



Friday, February 7, 2020

Lopsided scales of Justice



Three centuries ago, Jonathan Swift compared the law to a cobweb. The small insects will be trapped, but the bigger creatures will rupture the web and get away. Justice, like truth, is an elusive ideal. American philosopher, Barrows Dunham, wrote in his controversial book Man Against Myth that “truth has been suffered to exist in the world just to the extent that it profited the rulers of the society.” Justice also has been similarly loyal to the powerful people.
Look at what is happening in India these days to understand this. Students of classes 4, 5 and 6 are charged with sedition because they staged a drama which questioned the prime minister. The headmistress and the mother of one of the students are arrested on serious charges. On the other hand, we have eminent political leaders of the ruling party who keep on delivering hate speeches day after day with impunity. Which is a greater crime: criticising the prime minister or spewing venom against whole communities of citizens?
Hardcore criminals sit in the Parliament as our rulers. These criminals make the laws for us. There are goons, murderers, rapists and terrorists among them. Some of these criminals wear the saffron. Wearing the religious garbs, they write off criminal charges against themselves.
Such things have happened throughout human history. What is new in India is that such things receive popular endorsement. A lot of Indians are happy with the present situation. They are happy just because the situation targets certain communities of people who are perceived as the country’s enemies.
Hundreds of thousands of people have suddenly become the nation’s enemies in India just because they believe in a different religion. These people were labelled invaders first, traitors then, and now their very citizenship is placed under the scanner. Who decides such things? Who decides that so-and-so is a traitor? Who decides the parameters of patriotism? Some criminals, of course. And millions of Indians just lap up the decisions of those criminals.
The real tragedy is that the nation is endorsing the views and decisions of criminals. Why have we capitulated our thinking skills? Why have we surrendered our rational faculties?
Pseudo-nationalism has taken the place of truth and justice and other ideals. Nationalism is a very emotive stuff. The nation has been driven to a chaotic dictatorship of emotions.



Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Wrong, Mr Javadekar



BJP minister Prakash Javadekar thinks that there is no difference between an anarchist and a terrorist. You are patently wrong, Mr Minister, as most your counterparts are these days. Is Prof Noam Chomsky a terrorist? Was Leo Tolstoy a terrorist? Both of them are self-proclaimed anarchists. There are a lot more like them who either declared themselves to be anarchists or are/were anarchists at heart. I am one too, though I belong to the humble sidelines. 
An anarchist is one who upholds individual freedom. Anarchists have a vital role to play when governments become oppressive as is the case in India now. India now has a government whose ministers and prominent leaders keep on shooting their mouths off whenever they see a microphone or camera. They spew venom against certain sections of citizens. Their ulterior motive is to oppress certain communities or groups and render them impotent. Anarchists have the guts to question the oppression and the falsehood that upholds the oppression.
American author Ursula K Le Guin described an anarchist as “one who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.” The anarchist makes a choice, after much thinking and consideration. He chooses not to surrender to lies and intimidation. He chooses personal liberty. He realises, like philosopher Nietzsche, that “Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has, it has stolen.” Hence the anarchist has to say No, a loud one at that, to his government.
The anarchist is the personification of the free spirit. He owes no allegiance to authority, heavenly or earthly, because he knows that the authority has lost its right to exercise the authority. Falsehood cannot sustain any authority for long. The anarchist is on the side of truth. He wants justice. He wants a better world.
Dear Mr Minister,
Anarchists did not
·        carry out the genocide against 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany
·        carry out the genocide against the Armenians in Turkey
·        starve millions of Ukrainians
·        kill or displace thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002
·        attack the World Trade Centre
·        drop the nuclear bombs in Japan
·        massacre millions of Chinese people in the Great Leap Forward
·        utter lies one after another shamelessly hoodwinking millions of people
Well, Mr Minister, you may not know that even Mahatma Gandhi was an anarchist at heart. He was not interested in rules per se. So was Jesus. So was the Buddha. They all placed the human beings above rules and rubrics. They had a heart. Can you place your palm on your chest and say honestly that you have a heart, Mr Minister? Just check, anyway, to see if it has stopped beating.


Monday, February 3, 2020

Ignorance and Prejudice



Prejudice is a universal human vice. Indispire Edition 310 raises the question whether ignorance is the mother of prejudice. To a large extent, ignorance is the mother of prejudice. Or father, let us say. When we use the word mother here, isn’t there a bias?
Psychology defines prejudice as a negative attitude towards people based on their membership in a group. Prejudice prejudges people particularly on the basis of the group(s) to which they belong. For example, Muslims are communal: this is a very common prejudice today in many countries. Prejudice can often lead to violent conflicts, hate crimes and unfair treatment of people.
Ignorance is the chief cause of prejudices. Ignorance makes us categorise people too easily. Categorisation is inevitable as it helps us to organise and simplify our world. I lived in North India and the Northeast for most part of my adult life and I was labelled as ‘Madrasi’ quite often. The fact is I had nothing to do with the city that was called once upon a time Madras. I belonged to a different state altogether. I didn’t even know the language of the people of Madras. Yet I was a Madrasi for the North Indians and the people of Shillong. They just categorised me for the sake of their convenience. Most of them didn’t even bother to check how many qualities or vices I shared with other South Indians.  
I was guilty of the same error too. I imagined that all the Khasi people in Shillong shared the same qualities and vices. The Malayalis in Shillong had a particular term for the Bengalis there which presumed that all Bengalis were voracious fish-eaters.
Most people don’t bother to check whether their prejudices are based on facts. Most people are in love with the stereotypes they acquire from their society and these stereotypes create most of the prejudices. We often hear opinions such as women are sensitive, gentle and emotional while men are tough, aggressive and virulent. It’s a blatant prejudice born of a stereotype. I have come across women who are far more tough, aggressive and virulent than men and vice-versa.
We can always check the facts. That’s the way to deal with our prejudices. But who cares for facts? Look at present-day India. See how full of prejudices it is. The ruling party and its numerous accomplice-organs are doing whatever they can to foster prejudices against certain communities. Unfortunately our leaders are encouraging the popularisation of such prejudices. They even make use of the national media for cultivating and propagating prejudices against certain people.
Competition for limited resources is another cause of prejudices. India today is faced with this problem rather acutely. There’s more poverty, unemployment, and frustration in spite of all the big promises and brags that are foisted upon us time and again by eloquent speakers. Prejudices breed like viruses in such an environment.
Low self-esteem is a hotbed of prejudices. A person who does not have a healthy self-esteem is eager to belittle others. You become great by denigrating the others using prejudices. The other’s smallness becomes your bigness. If you can’t become great, then the next best (facile, I mean) option is to make your rival appear small in front of others. How often have Nehru and Gandhi suffered this fate in the last few years!

How prejudiced are you? Find out by taking the Implicit Association Test.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Divine Silence

Yesterday Maggie said, "Let's go to Arthunkal." Arthunkal is a Christian pilgrimage centre in Kerala, about 65 km from my home. "Okay," I said. It's quite some time since Maggie and I went on a long drive. That was the only reason as far as I was concerned. For Maggie, the visit meant much more than that. 
Outside the church
When we reached, the 9 o'clock Mass had just begun. Maggie chose to attend the Mass. Since that sort of prayer doesn't make sense to me, I decided to explore the church whose history goes back to the 16th century. It's then the Perpetual Adoration Chapel caught my attention. The chapel is a semicircular building whose door, the only one it has, remains closed. You enter and the door closes behind you. The atmosphere inside is cool and calm. When I entered there were just 4 or 5 devotees inside who were all praying silently. I sat down on a pew and closed my eyes. 
The church
Serenity surrounded me. Soon I was bathed in that serenity. I loved sitting there. A strange sensation gripped me and I felt happy to be there. It was more than happiness. I realised that prayer could make sense to me too. My prayer had no words, however. It didn't need any. I left that chapel after an hour or so with a rarefied feeling in my soul. 

Don't take that too literally. I don't believe in a soul in the religious sense. 
The Perpetual Adoration Chapel
When the Mass was over, Maggie and I visited the old church that belongs to the 16th century. We spent some time in the holy premises before driving to the Thaickal Beach which is just a few kilometres away from the church. It's not much of a tourist destination. 
The old church, 16th century
The beach remains pristine because tourists haven't discovered it yet. There were some fishermen on the beach who were mending their fishing boats. They didn't look at the handful of tourists who wandered about the desolate beach like lost souls. 
At the beach
The silence was broken only by the sound of the waves that lashed the shore relentlessly. That sound had a music, as divine as the peace that descended on me in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.