Sunday, May 31, 2020

Belong somewhere

Source: Dreamstime


What makes Narendra Modi a hero is that he belongs, or claims to belong, to a particular culture or religion or history that a lot of other people too belong to or claim to belong to.

People in general can be divided into two groups: the geniuses who belong to the stars and the commoners who belong to the soil. Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali would not have bothered themselves with Facebook or Instagram (let alone Tick Tock) and the absurdly noisy 8 pm debates on news channels. Geniuses do and silly mortals follow. Bhakti is the ordinary soul’s shakti. Bhakti makes you belong somewhere. You belong to a god or many gods. You belong to a political party. You belong somewhere.

Life looks like a rainbow when you belong somewhere if you are commoner: very charming and nothing less than infinity. Our gods are infinite. And we belong to them. How nice!

Creating your own space because you know you don’t belong is the job of the genius. Let the genius alone. You and I need to belong. Since the gods are a bit far away and apparently listless, we choose to belong to their religions. Religions are close by. And they give us very strong feelings of belonging. Especially when we attack those who don’t belong to our own religions. Enemies give us stronger feelings of belonging than anybody else. If you don’t have enemies, create them.

Narendra Modi is the best Prime Minister of India because he is good at creating enemies and giving us the much-needed feeling of belonging to a galaxy. Only he can gift us that glib feeling that we don’t belong to the thousands who walk hundreds of kilometres to their homes having been evicted from their workplaces by joblessness and hunger. Only he can create real or imaginary enemies all around us and give us that glib feeling that we are better than them, stronger than them, superior to them.

Belonging. Isn’t that what drove those thousands of migrant labourers to hit the endless roads?

Belonging. Isn’t that what drives you to your killing gods?

We all need to belong somewhere. The geniuses are lucky that they belong to their private realms. To the relativity of reality in the infinite spaces. To the psychedelic bizarreness of that reality. To absurdity.

But we need our gods and their bloodthirst.

Suppose we start seeing gods in our fellow beings. That is what our religions teach actually, isn’t it? Suppose we actually start practising what our religions teach. The world can be a far better place. But we won’t practise what we preach. Because we are not geniuses who see infinity and the stars there. We are the little moths that belong to the candle flame. We belong. And that belonging makes us happy. Even if it is killing little lights that we belong to.

PS. Inspired primarily by Indispire Edition 327: What you have learned from life so far? #life. And boozed up by a friend’s comment on Facebook this morning about the need to belong to certain lights.





Friday, May 29, 2020

Power of Authenticity


Book Review

What makes any personal discourse enchanting is the authenticity it exudes. Darshana Suresh’s book, An Ode to the Self, is suffused with authenticity that delights and disarms the reader at once. As the title indicates, the book is a result of the author’s self-exploration.

Self-exploration is a slippery slope for any writer, particularly one who is just entering the adult world from the much cosier student’s world. Darshana who describes herself as “a lover of dreams, rains and words” is a “computer science engineer in the making” who is “pretty close to entering the corporate world.” Her book carries more wisdom than one would normally expect of a writer of her age. She has learnt a lot from life. She has been open to the inevitable experiences that life hurls fortuitously before anyone.

The first thing that strikes any observant reader is the spontaneity of her style. Words flow elegantly and naturally from her pen. No, from her heart. There is poetry bubbling beneath the surface of the text and yet there is not one irrelevant word or unnecessary embellishment. She is blessed with an inborn talent for writing. What’s more is the genuineness of her intentions. She is exploring herself in this book as a sincere learner who wishes to understand herself as well as the world around her.

Most chapters begin with some incident or episode taken from the author’s life and that captures the reader’s interest instantly. Darshana connects the episode with the theme of the chapter seamlessly and the whole thing becomes a melody in the entire orchestra that the book is.

Pearls of wisdom stand out of that orchestra every now and then. The scariest thing about love is its vulnerability, Darshana says, for example. Love drives you to expose yourself to another person, give him “all the strength to empower you, but also to destroy you.”  Hurt is an inevitable part of the whole process. “If you tell me that it is possible to build a close bond without hurting ever, I wouldn’t believe you,” she says. Life has taught her otherwise. How you deal with hurt is what matters, Darshana tells us. And she is absolutely right too.

Like any person who stands a notch above mediocrity but is not sure where exactly she stands, Darshana takes an empathetic look at the whole rat race for great conquests. She articulates some of her attempts to excel: mimicking the best or competing with them. Eventually the realisation dawns upon her that she was another individual with her own words, her own truths, her own style, “blissfully free”.

The entire book is about that blissful spirit that longs to fly high and is already halfway up there. Here is a young writer who is destined to go a long way. She is a great learner and she has the required determination. This book of hers can be an inspiration to every reader particularly the young ones who are still involved in the many rat races of life.  
 
Darshana Suresh
PS. Darshana’s book can be downloaded here: An Ode to the Self
You may also download my addition to the same series, Great Books for Great Thoughts.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

From beyond the grave to beyond galaxies

Book Review

Sitharaam Jayakumar
This is a collection of short stories numbering to over thirty. They are divided into five categories: Horror/thriller; Sci-fi/humour; Sci-fi/public welfare; Sci-fi/miscellaneous; and General. Sitharaam Jayakumar, the author, is an accomplished storyteller who has published a couple of short novels.

The first section in this collection is likely to remind the reader of Somerset Maugham with a hangman’s noose. The stories in this section reek of cynicism as they narrate stories of human wickedness. Betrayal and fraudulence are the themes of these stories. The wife is unfaithful to the husband or vice-versa and then one goes to the extent of murdering the other. In a few stories the ghost of the murdered person returns to take revenge. Jai (as the author is known among his friends) builds up the whole plot so adeptly that the conclusion lands on our face like an unexpected slap. He is also an expert at creating the apt environment. There is an eerie feeling dominating most of these stories. See the opening sentence of the first story, ‘I will always be with you’: “I climbed up the steep mountain slope moving away from the burning wreck of the car I had left my wife Kathy’s dead body in.” Or look at this from another one: “The tale went that the last occupant of the villa was a failed painter couple who lived there as recluses.”

The stories grouped together under ‘Sci-fi/Humour’ can make us smile with humanoids that behave like real humans. Romeo and Juliet in ‘Give me five!’ and Andrei and Steffi in ‘The Five-Set Thriller’ are humanoids with a nice sense of romance. The irony of our possible future falling back on the past of Swift’s Gulliver as hinted at in ‘The Evacuation’ is also amusing.

The third section tries to convey some serious messages. ‘Lesser of two evils’ has a superior extra-terrestrial creature throwing out some serious warnings to the homo sapiens on earth who have destroyed the planet enough already. ‘Four corners of the world’ is a powerful plea in favour of women. A humanoid in ‘The Peace-Queen’ has better sense than his actual human creator.

‘Adam and Eve’ in the fourth section tells us about a possible end of the earth. Ironically two scientists named Adam and Eve – one each from America and Russia – begin the human race once again on another planet. The last stories in the collection make up for all the cynicism that oozes out of the first section. A touch of spirituality graces some of these pages too.

Jai sustains the reader’s interest throughout and that is one of his strengths as a storyteller. The stories in the first section of this volume are meant to shock and horrify and hence the cynicism in them cannot be blamed. The stories grow into increasing sobriety as we move on.

The collection can be downloaded here: Jai’s Assorted Tales

My contribution to the series to which Jai’s book belongs is: Great Books for Great Thoughts




Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Thinking beyond horizons



The human world has never been quite pleasant. There is much misery in it, some of which is our own creation. Natural calamities and pandemics may be beyond our control. But what we create should be within our control. Our thinking should change first of all if our world is to change. That is why a title like Unconventional Thoughts catches our attention. The first thing I noticed about this book by fellow blogger Sreevas Munnoolam is its title: Ten Unconventional Pieces of Thoughts.

This is a short book of just ten chapters and 30-odd pages. The ten topics are disparate with probably only one thing in common between them: the author’s intent to be unconventional.

The first topic to be discussed is alchemy. Though a lot of genuine scientists and researchers devoted much time and energy to alchemy, nothing much came of it. Worse, charlatans used alchemy for swindling gullible people by promising to give them gold in place of baser metals. Sreevas takes a look at some of the genuine researchers from the ancient days to our own Lawrence M Principe. The author rightly concludes that today’s alchemy is no more about the Philosopher’s Stone or immortality but about transmuting people’s thoughts for commercial purposes. There is a subtle suggestion that we could use the technique for enhancing people’s spiritual thinking. That is certainly an unconventional approach to spirituality.

Time and time-travel are Sreevas’s next topics. There is something “mischievous and mysterious” about time. Time is not an absolute and light has a role to play in its existence. Or does it exist only in our minds? Anyway, as the author says, “For us, time is our life and in this time, we exist. Everything else, only the time will tell.”

Sreevas then moves on to some strange quests in our literature like those in the books of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. We love mysteries, he concludes. We do, undoubtedly.

Homo Sapiens have been around for a brief period in the history of the earth and they have done much harm already to the planet, as Yuval Yuval Noah Harari says in his famous book, Sapiens. Sreevas echoes Harari’s concerns.

Déjà vu is the topic of chapter 5. There is an element of mystery in every experience of déjà vu, though the experience is common. Xenophobia follows in the next chapter and the author links it with racism which he admonishes readers to shun like the plague.

The strange charm of conspiracy theories becomes the subject of chapter 7. It is quite natural that the Illuminati succeeds that topic in the next chapter. While the déjà vu and xenophobia are discussed rather casually and briefly, the history of the Illuminati is more exhaustive.

Brevity is a drawback in chapter 9 too which discusses subjectivity. Sreevas chooses to discuss philosophy here focusing on Descartes and Kant. The problem is that philosophers like them are not amenable to such short discussions.

The book concludes with a discussion on ‘Zeitgeist Philosophy: an explanation for the rise of heroes throughout ages’. Once again, we are left wishing for more because the author does not go beyond a superficial look at the topic.

On the whole, Sreevas has made a successful attempt to look at some unconventional topics, to think beyond the normal horizons. The book would have aroused much greater interest in readers if the topics were discussed in some detail.

PS. This review is part of the Ebook Carnival 2020 programme initiated by The Blogchatter. The above book can be downloaded here

My book in this series, Great Books for Great Thoughts, is available here.

Monday, May 25, 2020

NOTA is not the Answer



Thousands of migrant labourers have been walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes from their workplaces for two months now in India. Outlook reports that the labourers have decided to vote NOTA [None of the Above] in the next election.

No, dear friends, NOTA is not a wise option. NOTA is nobody. Even if that option gets the maximum votes, you will still get some real vampire as your MLA or MP according to the rules. The one who gets the highest votes after NOTA will get to suck your blood.

You have another option, a wise and practical option. I will tell you in a moment.

Why did you become migrant labourers in the first place? Think for a moment. One of your vampires has now declared that the states should get his permission to hire workers hereafter. “If any state wants manpower, the state government will have to guarantee social security and insurance of the workers. Without our permission they will not be able to take our people…because of the way they were treated in some states,” he said. What a cruel joke!

I live in a state (Kerala) which provided all necessary things from food to accommodation to its migrant labourers who number to a whopping 35 lakh. This small state of Kerala treated its migrant labourers just like its own citizens. The state doesn’t even call them migrant labourers; ‘guest workers’ is the name given to them. And they are treated with that dignity too.

Yet some of them wanted to leave. Understandable. They had no work to do and they understandably wanted to be with their family members. But it consoles me as a Keralite to know that there was no mass exodus from my state. The state government arranged trains when the Centre nodded permission. Until then the “guest workers” were looked after with dignity. Just check which party was ruling the states from where migrants had to walk endless distances.

What did the Yogi who now wants states to seek his permission to hire workers do for these workers at any time? He had all the labourers who returned home sprayed with disinfectants. He treated you like shit. And now he pretends that he cares.

I asked the question ‘Why did you become migrant labourers in the first place?’ and then digressed. Let’s return to the question. Wouldn’t you have liked to work in your own places? Why would you travel such long distances, to alien lands where the language and culture are all different, if you could find means of livelihood in your own hometowns? Why were you deprived of the very right to earn your livelihood?


Ask yourselves, brethren. It is not enough to be called bhaiyo aur behno. Realise that. Realise that you were being exploited with sweet talks and religious sentiments. They gave you a gigantic statue when you asked for food. You were brainwashed to feel proud of some putative unity that the statue was to symbolise when you were actually being vivisected into mutually hating groups ready to slash each other’s throats. Hatred is one of the most powerful political tools and you were given that tool very cunningly. Subliminally.

You were promised more temples and statues for your gods. If they actually worked on their promises, you would have got work at least. You wouldn’t have been migrants at all. Instead they ended up tickling your nationalist ribs by renaming places which had Muslim names. What difference did it make to you when Allahabad became Prayagraj?

Your veins must have surged with nationalist pride. Did you feel a sense of conquest over the ossified Mughals when Mughal Sarai turned into Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Nagar? Writing down that new name on an application form will call for some effort if anything. Patriotism has its pertinent burdens too.

Hollow promises and contagious hatred are part of those burdens. What more did they give you? Disinfectant sprays on your return home?

Do not ever forget the blisters you gathered on your bare feet while walking hundreds of kilometres on scorching tarmac. Do not let them romanticise those blisters at least. Never forget: romantic sentiments, whether in the name of your nation or religion, are only political ploys of people who possess no imagination for creating a nation of healthy minds and bodies.

NOTA won’t get rid of those vampires. So what should you do?

You find leaders among yourselves. Contest the polls. Take charge of your destiny. Remember that a cry in the wilderness can set a whole avalanche in motion. We can have a much better country than this. Far better. Think of that.



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Two Months of Lockdown

One of the roads in my village which I discovered during the lockdown


It has been two months now since most of us were shut in at home. When it started I thought the medical science would bring the coronavirus to its knees. After all, our science took us to the infinite interstellar spaces and also to the microscopic spaces between electrons. This science gave us so much that we grew up trusting its omnipotence. I did, at least. Well, almost.

On 23 March, when the Prime Minister put the country under a lockdown in his characteristic magisterial style, I did hope that science would invent a remedy on the 22nd day – a day after the lockdown was to end. My Prime Minister’s aplomb elicited that hope from me.  I marked the count-down on my calendar.

When the lockdown entered the second week, my hope and trust both flagged. I stopped marking countdown on the calendar. I knew the world was going to kneel down before a microscopic virus. I chose to read and write all the time. I wrote one blog post every day for the A2Z Challenge thrown by Blogchatter. On 30th April I completed the challenge with 26 posts on 26 different works of literature, books or authors that captured my fancy – most of them being classics. Those 26 posts on books ranging from Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man to Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek have been compiled into an ebook titled Great Book for Great Thoughts which will be launched by the Blogchatter on 25th of this month. The book will be available for free download for a month.

April passed gleefully with the great books. I also had ample time to wander through the social media. I read the comments made on many Facebook posts and laughed a lot. The posts were serious articles written by eminent writers from various publications. The comments were made by the public. I marvelled at the inanity of the public. The capacity of the public for levity and banality left me more amazed than amused. More than once my heart hardened enough to long for the coronavirus to spread more rapidly and eliminate the worst species on the planet.

The suffering of the underprivileged classes stirred my tender feelings, however. I watched on my TV screen thousands of people walking hundreds of kilometres from their workplaces to their hometowns. I saw people die on the roads. I saw corpses being dumped in mass graves. I saw the real worth – worthlessness, rather – of human life. I wondered about the meaning of suffering. I began to write my next ebook: Coping with Suffering. [The title was given recently.] The book has gone into 9 chapters already, starting with ‘To exist is to suffer’ and ending with ‘Impotence of suffering’. The last and tenth chapter, ‘Inevitable lessons’, will be written in the coming week. The book will be launched at Amazon in the first week of June.

I can see another ebook waiting to be written in June-July. I’m going to look at English language in those months. When the monsoon will be playing its bizarre melody [which used to be romantic in earlier times] on my roof and all around, I will be playing with the elegant structures of English sentences, starting with the simplest sentence ‘I go’ and moving through apparently complex ones like ‘The tall, handsome, well-dressed and equally well-mannered boy was walking,’ Well, did you notice that the structure of both the sentences is the same: Subject + Verb? Language learning can be fun if we know the patterns of the sentences in the language. I’ll explore those patterns in June-July. [Look at this one for instance: ‘The tall, handsome, well-dressed and equally well-mannered boy, who used to accompany that pretty petite girl you were speaking about the other day, was walking alone in that fateful evening while the multicoloured car with the Swastika painted all over its body came speeding along…’]

In addition to all these are my online classes in the mornings.

So the lockdown hasn’t been bad, after all. I wish it had been half as good for the weaker groups of my countrymen.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Truth: who wants it?



Truth is the handmaid of power. As American philosopher Barrows Dunham put it in his book Man Against Myth, “Generally speaking, truth has been suffered to exist in the world just to the extent that it profited the rulers of society.”

If the truths in our scriptures came from the gods, then our gods were also in collusion with those people who wielded the power. Who decided, for instance, that Sanskrit was the language of the gods and the men of the gods, and that the lower caste people should not even hear it spoken? Which gods would have benefited by having molten lead poured into the ears of the lower caste people if they happened to hear the Sanskrit shlokas even inadvertently? Who created the hierarchy of the caste system in the first place?

Why did the Bible make the Serpent tempt Eve rather than Adam? The man who created the myth was creating the ‘truth’ that the woman is a dangerous creature and should always be kept subservient to the male of the species.

Have you ever wondered why most of our gods are male? And why are our goddesses bizarre creatures with either enormous breasts or more enormous teeth? Why did Sita of Ramayana have to prove her chastity not once but three times? [The number depends on which version of the myth you are reading]

The answer to all these questions is one: the truth which necessitated each of those was a fabrication of a vested interest.

Vested interests continue to fabricate truths even today. Who decided, for example, that India belongs to people of one particular religion? Who decided that certain foods and dresses are taboo? [Recall the lawyer who was assaulted by the Madhya Pradesh police just because he “looked like” a Muslim.]

“History is the lies of the victors,” says a young character in Julian Barnes’s novel The Sense of an Ending. His history teacher adds that “it is also the self-delusions of the defeated.” Lies and self-delusions. Most of our truths are those in reality.

We have coined a new phrase now to describe the condition of truths in our own times: post-truth. The word implies circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping our opinions than appeals to emotions and personal beliefs. The award for the best post-truth speeches should go to India’s Prime Minister.




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Hindus: An Alternative History


Book Review

History is a myth whose meaning depends on from whose point of view you look at it. India has been witnessing an unprecedented rewriting of its history ever since Narendra Modi became its Prime Minister. Erstwhile heroes are turning villains and vice-versa.

History belongs to those who wield the power. But we are not living in the days of landlords and vassals anymore. Anyone can make her views available to the whole world today without any difficulty making use of the various media available. Hence history is no more a potent tool in the hands of the power-wielders and their brokers.

Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, is an example of how history can be seen from yet another angle. Doniger is an American Indologist who is turning 80. She is a scholar of Sanskrit and Hinduism. She has written many books on Hinduism, its sacred books and gods apart from translating the Rig Veda, The Laws of Manu, and the Kamasutra into English from Sanskrit. Her alternative history of Hinduism, however, irked certain Indians so much that the publisher had to withdraw the book from the market.

The fit of pique experienced by a section of Indians is understandable, however. Doniger’s humour is blasphemous, for one thing. Her irreverence stabs the devotee right between the ribs, for another. In other words, the book is not boring enough to be academic history. Again, the book looks at Indian history – not just Hinduism – through the eyes of the marginalised people like the women who were objects of men’s sensual pleasure, the backward classes, and even animals.

Doniger’s statements such as “Big breasts are as useful to courtesans as to goddesses” or her suggestion that the people of the great Indus Valley Civilization “had no religion at all” and that they were “more like protoatheists than protoyogis” are not likely to excite contemporary votaries of Hinduism whose religious-nationalist-cultural sentiments are reportedly very fragile. She also highlights the internal contradictions in many ancient scriptures and acclaimed texts like The Laws of Manu and Artha-Shastra. She shows how Hinduism was not at all as nonviolent as it has pretended to be. “Hinduism was violent,” she says, “not only in its sensuality but in its reaction against that sensuality – violent, that is, both in its addictions and in the measures it took to curb those addictions.” It was also violent in many of its religious sacrifices and rituals. The Hindu kings were as violent as, if not more than, their counterparts elsewhere.

One of the essential questions the author raises is who made all those rules in the sacred scriptures? Who made Sanskrit the language of the gods and the gods’ men? [Men, because women had nothing much to do with gods.] One of the easiest ways of making your life secure and comfortable is to make knowledge a private property of a select group of people. Isn’t that what the Brahmins did in those early days?

As Kautilya wrote in his classical book, “You cannot fool all the people all the time; but it is not necessary.” [Doniger says that Kautilya makes Machiavelli look like Mother Teresa.”] You need to fool only a substantial proportion of the population. Doniger points out that even the ravaging Alexander could not understand the cunning of the Brahmins who succeeded in instigating a rebellion among his troupes. “In India, it seems, he (Alexander) wasn’t all that Great,” chuckles Doniger.

Doniger can rectify some of our misconceptions about the arrival of Christianity and Islam in India. Islam did not come with the invaders and Christianity did not accompany the British, for the first time. Traders brought these religions long before the invaders or the missionaries did. The Arabs had trade relationships with the Indus valleys right from 650 CE. Christianity was present in Kerala centuries before any British missionary arrived in India.

In fact, the East India Company was against the missionaries. The Company was purely commercial and they did not wish to ruin the trade by mixing religion with it. It is only in the first half of the 19th century that the British missionaries became active in India. When Queen Victoria took over absolute power over India following the 1857 Rebellion, she curtailed missionary activity.

The Mughals were also not as wicked as our present-day nationalists project them. Some of them like Akbar were tolerant and even supportive of Hindus, Shah Jahan was a mixed bag, and Aurangzeb was the worst. Doniger shows Jahangir punishing one of his officials for converting the son of a defeated Hindu raja. Conversion was not a Mughal pastime. They considered Islam their own heritage and did not want to bring anybody and everybody into it. Even Aurangzeb did not convert more than 200 Hindus, according to available evidence.

People did convert from one religion to another. Hindus became Muslims and vice-versa, especially for intermarriages. Some did it for personal benefits such as money or positions. A few did it out of genuine convictions. Doniger says that Shah Jahan established a special department to forestall conversions.

Both Hinduism and Islam influenced each other – the arts, literature, music, and so on. Doniger quotes Amitav Ghosh: “It is a simple fact that contemporary Hinduism as a living practice would not be what it is if it were not for the devotional practices initiated under Mughal rule.”

The last chapter of the book takes a look at the Hindus in America, Doniger’s own country. “Hindus, and various forms of Hinduism, came to America and colonized it,” as Doniger puts it. In 2004, there were as many as 1.5 million Hindus in America. They make positive contributions to the country’s culture too. A lot of godmen, god-women, and other such people have set up their institutions in America. Hinduism is flourishing in America. “If you are a Hindu in America, it is now possible for you to make an offering on the banks of the Ganges without leaving Atlanta or wherever you are; you pay someone else in India to do it for you,” says Doniger. There are websites offering those and more services.

Even Kamasutra is doing brisk business in America today. There is a wristwatch, for instance, that displays a different position from the Kamasutra every hour. There is “Kama Sutra Pleasure Box” and “Kama Sutra Weekend Kit” and all sorts of things related to sexual delights. A pocket-size edition of the book is also a hit in the American market.
 
Wendy Doniger
Doniger’s wit, scholarliness and narrative style make the book unputdownable. This is how history should be written, I think. It makes history interesting. It makes history readable, even enjoyable. Do understand that Doniger is not belittling the religion. Far from that, she has as much respect for it as any other academician has. The style does matter, however. The style makes the difference.



Monday, May 18, 2020

The World After COVID

Migrant workers returning home in India


The world won’t be much different after the coronavirus has done with its yomp. Quite a lot of people would have vanished from the face of the earth altogether. There may not even be a tomb to mark their final rest. Those who are fortunate to be left behind may wonder what life is all about. Is it anything more than Shakespeare’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? A walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more?

What happened to all those multi-speciality hospitals, surgical expertise, billion-dollar machinery? The wireless brain sensors and the robotic surgeons buckled. Precision medicines and Virtual Reality devices capitulated. Will the global telemedicine market be worth the prophesied $113.1 billion by 2025? Will CRISPR [Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats] be the new God with its advanced gene-editing technology?

Mankind never gives up. It has witnessed too many calamities and pandemics. Nothing has stopped its march with gigantic steps toward establishing firmly its lordship over the planet. COVID-19 is just a boulder the in the course of the river. The river will find its way.

A few thousands will have lost their lives in the meanwhile. Does that matter? Such losses are always personal. Mankind is not concerned with personal losses. Mankind is concerned with progress, with attaining godhood.

Thousands of poor people are walking on the roads of India trying to reach home from their workplaces where they have been languishing without work, without proper food, without anything to do, cut off from relatives and people who matter to them. They are walking hundreds of kilometres. A few of them have to walk thousands of kilometres! This in a country whose Prime Minister has put aside Rs 20 lakh crore [20000000000000] for dealing with the situation.

Even now, when a microscopic virus is teaching people all over the world that money isn’t going to save them, the Indian government’s allocation of money is going into wrong hands. For example, a part of that money is being spent on medical ventilators being bought at Rs 400,000 each when their actual cost could be as little as Rs 10,000.  That is just one example. Be sure that nothing more than a tiny fraction of the allocated funds will reach the people of India, unless you take a handful of minions as the people of India.

The ruling party in India, BJP, is known for corruption of a different sort. It diverts money openly and people support such swindles because religion is being used to uphold the entire misguided political system. The diverted funds are being used to create a Hindu Rashtra. This is what people are made to believe. And people are also made to believe that the Hindu Rashtra is going to be a kind of utopia. Even COVID-19 hasn’t altered those beliefs.

And that is how COVID-19 is going to leave the world. The world will learn almost nothing.

The world passed through similar catastrophes earlier too. And they didn’t make man any better a creature.

Man doesn’t learn. That’s the real tragedy. As philosopher Schopenhauer said long ago, man goes by his blind will which is made of his passions and instincts. His intellect is too feeble. Most people don’t even use the brain. Every animal is driven by the will, the will to live. Man is driven by nothing else fundamentally. Logic has never convinced that will of anything. Religion has. Rhetoric has. Romantic dream has.

That is how the world will continue to be even after COVID-19. The gods will return to the temples that have been closed. Their priests and other patrons will return. Blindness will continue to be the ultimate virtue.

Those with open eyes will be pushed out of visibility.  They can sit and rewrite the story of अंधेर नगरी चौपट्ट राजा





Saturday, May 16, 2020

Anomaly



When I officially turned a senior citizen last month, one of the birthday greetings that came on Facebook described me as “the kindest man born in the cruellest month”. The greeting was from an old friend who had long ago referred to me as a paradox. Paradox sounds too elite and I know that I am not any kinder than April is cruel. So I choose to describe me as an ‘anomaly’ for my young friend, Aditya Narayan Mohanty, who is asking fellow bloggers to "Define your life in a single word and tell me the story behind that" #SingleWordThatCanDefineMe.

An anomaly is something or someone that deviates from the standard, normal, or the expected. That is quite an apt description of me in a single word, Aditya, when aptness has to coexist with brevity. A deviation, an aberration, a wart that might as well be excised.

I’m sure you’re familiar with Swift’s Gulliver. I often feel like Gulliver. Whether in Lilliput of miniature people or Brobdingnag of giants, Gulliver is a misfit. He doesn’t belong. Nor does he belong to Laputa of scientists. He wants to belong to the Houyhnhnms, the noble horses, but he is not a horse and the horses find him way too sub-equine. Gulliver’s resemblance with the despicable Yahoos is not lost on the Houyhnhnms. So Gulliver returns home and befriends the horses in his stable. A man making a horse stable his habitat is an anomaly, isn’t he?

The truth is a lot of us are anomalies. Look at the most powerful man in our country, for example. He uses all foreign goods. His pen is foreign, his shoes are, his glasses, his wallet, his bags, his car, everything except his genes is foreign and he tells us all the time to ‘Make in India’ and ‘Local is Vocal’ and so on.

Look at a friend of his who claims to be a sadhu who has renounced the world. He owns a multi-billion business enterprise which sells ordinary commercial things labelled as ayurvedic products. What’s more, people in our country trust him just because he uses religious symbols in his commerce. Religion, commerce, swindling – isn’t there an anomaly somewhere, Aditya?

There is another even more interesting star in that illustrious constellation. He was an encounter specialist, a mastermind of encounter killing – I mean, before he took upon himself the job of looking after the country’s public security. Under the new mantle, he perfected the art of horse-trading in all the states where his party was voted out by people. [May Gulliver’s Houyhnhnms forgive us for such crass commercialisation of their race!] Now when a pandemic is sweeping across the country, this custodian of public security is not even visible – in spite of the corpulence of his gigantic ego. Anomaly?

Well, Aditya, I can go on. But one of my new year decisions was to stay positive and these anomalies don’t look positive at all. So I stick to my own private anomaly and retire to my personal cabal of raging horses on my living room wall.





Thursday, May 14, 2020

Religion of Romance

A page from my book, English Poetry


A few months before the coronavirus started holding mankind hostage, I attended a wedding some 80 km from my home. When I was about to leave for home after the dinner, the host who was a close relative of mine asked me, “Can you take Father X with you. His seminary is on the way to your home. Just drop him there on your way.”

“Is he the priest who delivered the sermon today?” I asked. Yes, my host said. I’d be glad to take him, I said. I loved his sermon.

The sermon is a part of the usual Catholic religious ritual called Mass. It is nothing more than a plebeian elaboration on a biblical passage delivered by a priest for the mediocre believer. I have listened to hundreds of wedding sermons all of which were slight variations on the qualities of ideal Christian couples.

But Fr X’s sermon caught my attention. The comatose romantic in me was resurrected right away as he started with the example of the honeymoon of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The innocence of the first couple that was not yet corrupted by the Serpent was the theme of the sermon. Eden is a synonym of innocence, a refusal to be tempted by the Serpent, a transparency that draws the other like an irresistible magnet, a love that bonds you to the other as well as the whole nature around you…

I became Adam in God’s Eden while listening to the sermon. I visualised the Angel Oaks and the Rainbow Eucalyptuses on the rolling hillocks of Eden, the musk roses and the white lilies on the banks of sparkling streams, and the tigers and the gazelles that walked on my either side. Our either side, rather. What was Eden for Adam without his Eve?

Maggie [who had chosen to leave the front seat for the priest] told me as soon as she  saw Father X approaching our car, “Lower the volume of the music. The songs are too romantic for a priest.” Sheer coincidence, my car stereo was then playing a Malayalam song about a female bird that awaited its mate with longing on a hillside from the valley of which rose the aroma of burning incense. Incense is burnt in churches too. But birds which long for their mates on a romantic hillside are out of tune with churches. I turned down the volume but the song was still audible enough, like the soothing gurgle of a mountain brook.

Most religious people I know, irrespective of religion, are very loquacious people. They are characteristically nosey too. They want to know everything about you, from the temperature of your bathwater to the menu of your last dinner. So I waited for Father X to shoot his questions as I drove on breathing in the subdued aroma of the incense that rose from the yearning bird’s valley.

Father X was silent, however. Absolutely uncharacteristic of a priest. He had responded to my greeting and that’s all. I decided to break the ice and said, “Your sermon today was exceptional.” I waited for a response. Nothing came. “This is the first time I heard a Catholic priest give such a romantic interpretation of the biblical Eden,” I added.

“Thank you,” he said. He turned the volume knob of my car stereo. I thought it was a hint for me: ‘Just shut up, will you?’ I did shut up. The songs were good. And loud enough now.

Romance flowed in the car and Father X tapped his thigh with his palm to the tune of the song being played. I looked at Maggie in the rear-view mirror and she smiled at me meaningfully.

“If there is one more birth for you and me,” the song went, “will you be my mate again?” Father X tapped his thigh.

Romance runs in the veins of certain people, I know. The priest’s sermon was an evidence of the romance in his heart. I know that I will be a romantic till the last breath of my life.

Romantic like those poets of the early 19th century: Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth, for example. Most of them died young. Keats quit at the age of 26. Shelley made it to 30. At 36, Byron burnt out. Later Will Durant wrote that the romantics were killed by the intensity of their own dreams.

The romantics hated the real world and lived in the worlds of their own imaginations. They all had their sacred niches, like Nature for Wordsworth, Beauty for Keats, and some imaginary place for Shelley. The romantics withdrew from outer experience and concentrated on some worlds within themselves. Wordsworth’s nature was actually not the nature outside; he transmuted that nature into something else within him. So did Keats with beauty, and Shelley with his special places.

So do I. I imagine an ideal world like my romantic predecessors did and wish to live there. When I have to confront the reality around me and its contrasts with my imagination, I feel sick. I long for Adam’s Eden, my Eden – that is.

Father X too lives in some such Eden, I think. After all, what is religion but a big romance with its ideal Heaven and its exotic angels?
 
My First Book: published in 2001
PS. Wordsworth died at the ripe age of 80.
xZx