Sunday, August 30, 2020

Needed an Islamic Reformation

 

Image 

Creator: Max Slaven 
Copyright: Street Level Photoworks


This morning broke with two messages about Muslims in India. The first was Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s article in the Times of India and the other was a WhatsApp message. Both reveal an acute concern of non-Muslims about the backwardness of Muslims in India and the problems engendered by that backwardness.

Aiyar’s article is an open letter to Asaduddin Owaisi who recently lamented the pathetic condition of Indian Muslims vis-à-vis education. Aiyar rightly argues that the Muslims must help themselves in this matter as the Christians did long ago. “Instead of depending on the state,” Aiyar writes, “Christians have long created their own educational institutions of excellence.” Even today, when Ram Raj is enforcing itself on the nation, Christian educational institutions remain in high demand among non-Christians. “Hindus and Muslims pull all possible strings to get into them,” says Aiyar.

The Muslim community in India is capable of running their own educational institutions like the Christians. There are a few institutions of eminence like the Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Milia Islamia, and Osmania. Aiyar also mentions the good work done by Kerala’s Muslim Educational Society which runs many schools and colleges efficiently.

Why can’t the Muslims in India use their abundant wealth lying in the Waqf Boards as well as the generosity of the country’s affluent Muslims who are generous with their zakat donations for setting up good modern schools and colleges instead of primitive madrasas? Why not start with 200 top-class schools right away, Aiyar asks.

I’m with Aiyar heart and soul in this. Religions in India spend a lot of money on absurd things like ostentatious places of worship and propaganda. Why not spend that money on educating the children of the believers?

The WhatsApp message that came in a cliquish group to which I happen to belong raises concerns about the controversial love jihad that is apparently converting a lot of non-Muslims in Kerala using trickery and fraudulence. The message has chilling statistics too. I checked the veracity of the message and found that much of the statistics was exaggerated and was rejected long ago by the National Investigation Agency. Nevertheless, love jihad is a reality. Unsuspecting young girls fall prey to the traps laid by certain malevolent forces with strong religious backing. Many such girls end up in terrorist groups like the IS.

The first thing that the Muslims should stop is this fraudulence if they wish to bring any sort of progress and development to their community. Bring education instead. Too much religion is of no use to anyone. It has never done any good at any time to any people. History can show you that without any doubt. Religion is like any other intoxicant: good within limits and toxic beyond the limits.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Onam of the Demon King

 

Image Source: India.com


Kerala is celebrating Onam, the grandest festival of the state. Onam is a festival of colours, flowers, music and abundance. In my childhood, Onam was projected as a harvest festival thus making it absolutely secular. The mythical legend of Mahabali (or Maveli as he was popularly and affectionately called by Malayalis) played relatively little role in the actual celebrations. The festive mood tended to supersede the legend though images of a pot-bellied Maveli made their presence felt ubiquitously.

Perhaps people aren’t too keen to scrutinise the Maveli legend because the legend doesn’t put the gods in any good light. Maveli is an Asura (demon) king who turns out to be far better than the gods. The gods, therefore, become jealous of him and an avatar of Vishnu descends to decimate the beloved king of the humans.

In her scholarly book, The Hindus – An Alternative History, Wendy Doniger says that the relationships between humans, gods, and asuras in the history of Hinduism can be grouped into three alliances. At first, in the Vedic period, the gods and asuras are opposed to each other and the gods prefer to unite with humans against the asuras.

The second alliance begins in the Mahabharata and continues through the Puranas. In this period, certain asuras and even humans become threats to the gods by virtue of their ascetic powers.

In the words of Doniger, “The balance of power changed again when, in the third alliance, devotion (bhakti) entered the field, repositioning the Vedic concept of human dependence on the gods so that the gods protected both devoted men and devoted antigods. This third alliance is in many ways the dominant structure of local temple myths even today.”

Maveli belonged to the second phase. He was a threat to the gods because of his goodness. To be too good is to tempt the gods. And the gods sent him to the netherworld but granted his wish to return once a year to visit his beloved subjects. Onam celebrates that annual return of his.

Personally, I find Maveli a charming figure merely because he is the quintessential rival of the gods. He shows that even the demons (asuras) can be better than the gods. He hurls a huge question mark on the very worth of the gods. He renders divinity ridiculously absurd. This is what makes Maveli a real hero. This is also why he should come every year to remind us of the absurdity of our gods and their religions.

 

Previous years’ posts on Onam

Dear Maveli [2018]

The abundance of Onam [2017]

Onam – celebration of human longing for utopia [2016 – most read]

 

PS. Floods subdued Onam celebrations in 2018 and 2019. Covid did something worse in 2020. Maveli would do better to stay in his Patalam. What we have done to our planet and its environment is far worse than what the gods ever did to anyone, even to Maveli. We are the Vamanas now, sending goodness down to the netherworld day in and day out.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Mirror & the Light: Review

 Book Review

Title: The Mirror & the Light

Author: Hilary Mantel

Publisher: 4th Estate, London, 2020

Pages: 883

Price in India: 799

 

The first two volumes of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy told us the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise from a hamlet of Putney to Henry VIII’s palace. The battered son of an uncultured blacksmith and brewer rises to become the most powerful person in England after the king. The first two volumes, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, described the rise of this shrewd manipulator. The last one, The Mirror & the Light, delineates the inevitable fall of the tragic hero.

Mantel’s undertaking seems to be to show us that Cromwell was indeed a tragic hero rather than a mere manipulator who ascended too high. She does that job eminently too. This last volume of the trilogy is as gripping as the other two if not more endearing by its slower pace and more poetic diction. Nearly hundred characters are brought together in this massive book to tell us the story of a man who asserts intimidatingly to his rivals who don’t always conceal their scorn for his lowly origin, “I stand where the king has put me. I will read you any lesson and you should learn.”

Cromwell knows his position and its power. The opening line of the novel, “Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away,” sets the tone and the mood of the novel. The ‘he’ in the line is Cromwell who had just got Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry’s six wives, executed. Many men whom Cromwell didn’t like because of their association with the execution of his beloved Cardinal Wolsey have also been executed on charges fabricated cleverly by Cromwell. The novel begins with Anne Boleyn’s “small body” lying “belly down, hands outstretched, (swimming) in a pool of crimson.” The sight gives Cromwell appetite for a second breakfast.

There is much blood in the ensuing pages which tell the story of what happened in Henry VIII’s palace from May 1536 to July 1540 – from the execution of Anne Boleyn to that of Thomas Cromwell. There are celebrations too in between. As Christophe, Cromwell’s servant, says, “With this king one needs a reversible garment. One never knows, is it dying or dancing?” Death and dance parade on the stage according to Henry’s whims.

The whims of certain rulers are deadly. You should know how to deal with such rulers or else you may end up on the scaffold. Anne didn’t know that, for example. “She took Henry for a man like other men. Instead of what he is, and what all princes are: half god, half beast.” A few pages later, Cromwell reflects again: “What are princes? They think on murder all day long.” Mantel excels in laying bare the murderous narcissism of rulers like Henry VIII. Even religious rulers are not much above that sort of narcissism. In many places of the novel, Mantel draws our attention to the lustfulness of the bishops and the cardinals. These bishops and cardinals have also burnt too many persons at the stake in order to keep their perverse power unquestioned. Mantel implies that some of them also revelled in inventing stories about the men with whom Anne shared her body and in what all postures.

Cromwell knows how to deal with such rulers, of course. When such a king asks, “Am I going bald, Crumb?” our answer should be something like: “The shape of your Majesty’s head would please any artist.”

With such knowledge and perspicacity, Cromwell rises high. Too high. He thinks he knows everything that is happening around him. He has spies to pass on information. But there is something that he does not know. That lack is his tragic flaw. He does not know that the halo around his head is beginning to shine louder than that around Henry. “You have outgrown him,” one of his friends tells Cromwell towards the end. “You have gone beyond what any servant or subject should be.”

Cromwell realises his error, but it is too late. He realises that his beloved master Cardinal Wolsey “was broken not for his failures, but for his successes; not for any error, but for grievances stored up, about how great he had become.”

Narcissists are essentially weak men who pretend to be strong. And weak men are far more dangerous than strong ones though “the temptation to cut off your wife’s head does not arise every year” even in a weak king with a strong armour on his chest.

The three volumes of Mantel’s trilogy together form a colossal epic that serves as a classical monument to the quintessential tragic hero who appears more like a villain.

 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Vis: a dream destination

 

Vis: image from The Guardian


Like poet Yeats I too long for Innisfree. Unlike him, however, I am not in search of peace. I want to see some places and have a different experience of life. Both India, my country, and Kerala, the state where I live, have disappointed me terribly. India has been swallowed by the hydra-headed monster of sectarianism. Every institution in the country including the judiciary has been converted into one of those many heads of the vicious monster. Kerala was doing pretty well until recently when one woman called Swapna emerged as a phantasmagorical nightmare that roams the corridors of power in the state. Moreover, the Covid pandemic has kept me home for too long shrinking my horizons pathetically.

I want to be in some place like Yeats’s Innisfree: with water lapping with low sounds by the shore on one side and mountains towering like seductive sirens on the other. What about Vis in Croatia?

Croatia is a relatively unpolluted place. Tourists haven’t done much damage to it. It has beaches and mountains and islands, things which I love. Even the towns there are very charming, I have been informed, because they are the least crowded in the whole region. The country has a unique history too with its Greek cemetery, Roman baths, and the English fortress. As a bonus comes Croatia’s wine whose greatness was chronicled by famous travellers as far back as 300 BCE.

Vis is a small island in Croatia. Some pictures of the island that I stumbled upon gave me this longing to visit the place which is a rare blend of the sea, mountain and human habitats. I’m not sure I’m particularly enamoured of human habitats. But I know that they are inevitable along the way. I’m sure of one thing anyway: I would love to climb that mountain while listening to the gentle sound of the lapping water in the background, or like Yeats, in my “deep heart’s core.”

Old Stone Houses in Vis [The Guardian]

PS. For Indispire Edition 339: Once the world wins against Covid-19, which place would you love to visit first? #BelovedPlace

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

ഒരു നവോത്ഥാന കഥ

 ഓടുന്ന പട്ടിക്ക് ഒരു മുഴം മുന്നേ എന്നാണ് ചൊല്ല്. ചൊല്ലിയവരും ചൊല്ല് കേട്ടവരും എറിയാൻ കല്ലുകളും വടികളുമായി ഏറെ നാളായി കാത്തിരിക്കുകയായിരുന്നു ഒരു പട്ടി വന്നു കിട്ടാൻ. അങ്ങനെയിരിക്കെയാണ് അവർക്കു മത്തായിച്ചനെ കിട്ടുന്നത്. 

ജീവിതത്തിൽ എല്ലാം ഉണ്ടായിട്ടും എന്തോ ഒന്ന് ഇല്ല എന്ന ഒരു ബൗദ്ധിക ഉൾകിടിലം മത്തായിച്ചന് എങ്ങനെയോ വന്നുപോയി. അങ്ങേരുടെ ഗതികേട് എന്നല്ലാതെ എന്ത് പറയാൻ? നല്ല ഒരു ജോലി, സ്നേഹിതയായ ഒരു ഭാര്യ, തരക്കേടില്ലാത്ത വീട്, സമർത്ഥരായ രണ്ടു കുട്ടികൾ,അങ്ങനെ ഏതൊരു യാഥാസ്ഥിക വീക്ഷണ കോണിൽ നിന്ന് നോക്കിയാലും തെറ്റ് പറയാനില്ലാത്ത ജീവിതം. എന്നിട്ടും ഒരു സുപ്രഭാതത്തിൽ അങ്ങേരെ ബുദ്ധൻ പിടി കൂടി. 

ഷേക്സ്പിയർ ആണ് പിടി കൂടിയതെന്നു ചിലര് പറയുന്നു. "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" എന്നാണത്രെ മത്തായിച്ചൻ ആ ദുഷ്പ്രഭാതത്തിൽ ആദ്യമായി മൊഴിഞ്ഞത്. പക്ഷെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ പരവേശം ഹാംലെറ്റിന്റെ അനിശ്ചിതത്വം അല്ലായിരുന്നു എന്നാണ് അങ്ങേരുടെ ഭാര്യ പറയുന്നത്. വെളിപാടിന് വേണ്ടിയുള്ള ബുദ്ധന്റെ പരാക്രമം പോലെയായിരുന്നത്രെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ പരിവർത്തനത്തിന്റെ ആദ്യദിനങ്ങൾ. ഉറക്കമില്ലാത്ത കുറെ രാത്രികൾക്കു ശേഷം ഒരു പ്രഭാതത്തിൽ "Sweet Jahnavi, keep flowing and stay away from swallowing sadhus, though at my back in a cold blast I hear the rattle of the bones" എന്ന് ആലപിച്ചുകൊണ്ട് ജീവിതത്തോട് വിരക്തി പ്രഖ്യാപിക്കുകയായിരുന്നത്രെ മത്തായിച്ചൻ. 

ഈ വിരക്തി എന്നത് എത്ര ഭയങ്കര ഒരു സംഭവം ആണെന്ന് ലീലാമ്മ - മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ പ്രിയതമ - മനസിലാക്കിയത് ആ പ്രഭാത്തിലാണ്. വിശുദ്ധന്മാരുടെ വിശുദ്ധിയാണ് വിരക്തി എന്നായിരുന്നു ലീലാമ്മ ധരിച്ചിരുന്നത്. ഏതോ വിശുദ്ധൻ പിടിച്ചു വിഴുങ്ങാനിരിക്കുന്ന ഒരു നദിയാണ് വിരക്തി എന്ന്, അസ്ഥികളുടെ നിസ്സഹായ പ്രകമ്പനമാണ് വിരക്തി എന്ന് ലീലാമ്മക് മനസിലായത് ആ പ്രഭാതത്തിലാണ്. 

മത്തായിച്ചനു ജീവിതത്തോടുള്ള ആസക്തി ഇല്ലാണ്ടാകുകയായിരുന്നു. ജോലിയിൽ താല്പര്യം ഇല്ല. കുട്ടികളുടെ കാര്യത്തിൽ ശ്രദ്ധയില്ല. എന്തിനു, ലീലാമ്മയോടു പോലും വിരക്തിയായി. കഷ്ടം! എത്ര നല്ല മനുഷ്യനായിരുന്നു! ഈ വിരക്തി ഒരു അപാര സാധനം തന്നെ. പാര തന്നെ, ലീലാമ്മ സ്വയം പറഞ്ഞു. 

മത്തായിച്ചന്റേതു ഒരു താത്കാലിക രോഗമായിരിക്കാം എന്ന് വിചാരിച്ചു മത-സാമൂഹ്യ-രാഷ്ട്രീയ സംഘടനകളൊക്കെ കൊറേ നാൾ അവരുടെ നവോത്ഥാനമോഹങ്ങൾക്ക് കടിഞ്ഞാണിട്ട് വച്ചു.പിന്നെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ വിരക്തി മദ്യത്തോടുള്ള ആസക്തി ആയി മാറി തുടങ്ങിയപ്പോൾ സംഘടനകളുടെ സിരകളിൽ മനുഷ്യ സ്നേഹം നുരഞ്ഞു പൊങ്ങി. അവർ കവലകളിലും മീഡിയകളിലും മേടകളിലും ഒക്കെ യോഗങ്ങൾ കൂടി പ്രതിവിധികൾ തേടി. 

How to reform Mathaichan? അതായിരുന്നു യോഗങ്ങളുടെ സ്ഥിരം അജണ്ട. Reformation of Mathaichan നാട്ടിലെ എല്ലാ മനുഷ്യസ്നേഹികളുടെയും ജീവിത ലക്ഷ്യമായി മാറി. അവരിൽ ചിലർ കണ്ടുപിടിച്ച ഒരു ഉപാധിയായിരുന്നു ചതുരംഗം. മത്തായിച്ചൻ പോകുന്നിടത്തെല്ലാം ഒരു മനുഷ്യസ്‌നേഹി എത്തിയിരിക്കണം. പറ്റുമെങ്കിൽ മത്തായിച്ചൻ എത്തും മുമ്പ് തന്നെ. മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ നീക്കങ്ങളെ മുൻകൂട്ടി തടയുക. അതായിരുന്നു ലക്‌ഷ്യം. നാട്ടിലെ പ്രമുഖ pastor ന്റെ ആയിരുന്നു idea. സഹോമാർ വേണ്ടപോലെ സഹകരിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. ഓടുന്ന പട്ടിക്ക് ഒരു മുഴം മുന്നേ. That's the strategy, Pastor പറഞ്ഞു. 

പട്ടിയെ എറിയാൻ എല്ലാ മനുഷ്യസ്നേഹികളും കല്ലുകളും വടികളും ശേഖരിച്ചു, ഏറും തുടങ്ങി. മുഴം എത്രയെന്നു നിശ്ചയം ഇല്ലാത്തതിനാലും ഏറു അത്ര പോലും വശമില്ലാത്തിനാലും മത്തായിച്ചന് തലങ്ങും വിലങ്ങും ഏറു കൊണ്ടു. കൊറേ മുറിവും ചതവും ഒടിവും ഒക്കെയായപ്പോൾ മത്തായിച്ചന് ഓടാൻ പോയിട്ട് നിൽക്കാൻ പോലും വയ്യാതായി. അങ്ങനെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ വെളിപാട് ദാഹം ഒതുങ്ങിപോയി. 

ഈ ഒതുക്കലാണല്ലോ മത-സാമൂഹ്യ-രാഷ്ട്രീയ നവോത്ഥാനം. 

പക്ഷെ Pastor തൃപ്തനായില്ല. പാപി ഒതുങ്ങിയാൽ പോരാ, പശ്ചാത്തപിക്കുക കൂടി വേണമല്ലോ. അങ്ങനെ Pastor ചതുരംഗത്തിന്റെ രണ്ടാം പാദം തുടങ്ങി. ഓടിയോടി തളർന്ന മത്തായിച്ചൻ പട്ടിയെ ഒരു വഴിക്കു അല്ലെങ്കിൽ വേറൊരു വഴിക്കു പ്രാർത്ഥനയോഗങ്ങളിൽ എത്തിക്കുക: അതായിരുന്നു ലക്‌ഷ്യം. 

വഴി മാത്രം പോരല്ലോ, പട്ടി നടക്കുക കൂടി വേണ്ടേ? നടന്നില്ലെങ്കിൽ കെട്ടിവലിക്ക് സഹോ, Pastor പറഞ്ഞു. ദൈവഹിതം നടക്കും. ഇല്ലെങ്കിൽ നടത്തണം. അല്ലെങ്കിൽ പിന്നെ ദൈവം ഉണ്ടായിട്ടു എന്ത് കാര്യം? 


  

Monday, August 17, 2020

The God that Failed

 


Jacob, one of the biblical patriarchs, is forced to flee home in order to escape the wrath of his brother Esau whom he cheated rather meanly with ample assistance from his mother. Jacob finds shelter at his uncle Laban’s house where he falls in love with Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Laban promises to give his daughter in marriage to Jacob in return for 7 years’ of labour. Love can make you do anything, even embrace a 7-year slavery. At the end of the seven years, Laban cheats Jacob. The bride was led to Jacob’s dark tent in the night as was the custom. The marriage was consummated in the fire of a passion that had burnt for seven years. It is only in the light of the morning that Jacob realises the deception perpetrated by his uncle: he was given the ugly Leah instead of the beautiful Rachel.

Laban makes Jacob work for him for another seven years in order to marry his real love, Rachel. Referring to this grim episode from the holy book, Arthur Koestler wrote: “I wonder whether he (Jacob) ever recovered from the shock of having slept with an illusion. I wonder whether afterwards he believed that he had ever believed in it.”

Koestler was making a comparison of his love affair with Communism. In Communism he had embraced a gigantic illusion.

I was reminded of Koestler’s comparison after attending an online meeting on Saturday [Independence Day] evening. I had spent ten years of my youth with a religious congregation to which my spirit could never have belonged. Yet I went on to embrace that illusion for ten years. Like Koestler and his Jacob, I wondered afterwards again and again whether I believed that I had ever believed in what the congregation stood for.


That is why I refused to attend the preliminary meetings called by the congregation. It was supposed to be for the release of a book that they had compiled with chapters written on the theme of mother by various contributors including yours humbly. I ignored both the calls for preliminary meetings. Finally I was cajoled into joining the final, actual meeting in which the book was released.

The programme started with a prayer. An introductory talk. Then prayer. Another prayer. Yet another. I began to wonder whether I was invited to a typical prayer service of the congregation which I was familiar with in my days of Jacobian illusion. I felt nauseated and expressed my dislike soon after the function as a note in the WhatsApp group formed for the only purpose of this book release. I quit the group instantly too.

Allow me to fall back on Koestler a while yet. The same essay mentioned above. It is the first essay in an anthology titled The God That Failed. The failed God in the book is Communism. Koestler begins his essay by asserting that faith cannot be acquired by reasoning. Faith is similar to falling in love. It is a commitment that arises as a natural response to a psychological need. No one can force it upon anyone.

I can’t accept religious faith which I have come to see as nothing more than an illusion, however comforting that illusion may be. Koestler would say that I am a misfit from a psychological point of view. Anyone who revolts against systems accepted by the majority is a misfit. I am a misfit, I accept. I can’t help it. I can only request my self-appointed friends and well-wishers to leave me alone in this regard.

I have to live my life. I have no choice. I cannot capitulate myself to what my heart can only perceive as illusions.

Koestler’s failed God is Communism. Mine is what most people around me believe is the real God: a grand old man sitting up in a place called Heaven with a vengeance that is gathering momentum day by day and moving like a juggernaut toward the final Armageddon. He makes me smile in pity.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Independence


India has ascetics who can pull a car with their penises. India also has software engineers whose brains are put to good use by the world’s finest IT firms. There was a time when India built hospitals and universities. Now India builds statues and temples. Slogans had meanings in India until recently when they began to be exasperating echoes of pious wishes.

The independence of a nation is nothing more than the independence of its citizens. No nation can be said to be independent if even a fraction of its citizens are facing starvation, injustice, discrimination, and other such evils. No nation can be said to be free if its citizens are labouring under illusions and delusions, superstitions and ignorance, bigotry and sectarianism.

Is India really independent today, more than seven decades after our first Prime Minister hoisted the national flag proudly proclaiming to the world our historic tryst with destiny? True, even the first Independence Day wasn’t all that glorious. The father of the nation did not join the celebrations on that day because he was in the bloody streets of “the most violent city” (Calcutta, in the words of the authors of Freedom at Midnight) pacifying the spectres of religious hatred.


Those same spectres have been revived today by the successors of Gandhi’s assassins. Hatred is the largest enslaving spectre of today’s India. It walks about wearing the sanctimonious robes of nationalism and has the full blessings of the political leaders.

The leaders of any nation are a reflection of the people, Gandhi said. If we go by the standards displayed so far by our political leaders of today, India is a doomed nation. These are leaders whose souls belong to the dark alleys of the medieval period. They think like invaders and conquistadors though they speak like saints and visionaries. They establish IT cells manned by intelligent brains but end up making those people pull cars with their penises. They dish out falsehood day in and day out on various social media. They permeate the nation’s air with the poison of sectarian hatred.

Today’s leaders know how to get what they want by hook or by crook. Elected governments are toppled with the power of money. Educational and cultural institutions are converted into propaganda machineries. Dissenters are made to disappear from public places. Fair is foul and foul is fair. People have already been brainwashed into intellectual blindness. The Pavamana Mantras (Asato ma etc) have been inverted subliminally. We move from light to darkness.

India stands enslaved to falsehood and chicanery more than ever since its liberation from the British. The worst is the tendency of most Indians to keep looking back and blaming anyone from Nehru to Babur for all the ills that plague the nation today. The irony is that Narendra Modi has been in power for more duration than any other non-Congress Prime Minister so far in the country and yet he keeps blaming the past for the country’s woes. Worse, the country has degraded the most during the last six years due to the myopic policies implemented by Modi such as demonetisation, GST, and privatisation. The worst contribution, of course, is the dragon of communal hatred that keeps growing larger and keeps stirring relentlessly, spitting fire all the while.


India can be saved yet. It should liberate itself from its own leaders. A Panchayat in Kerala, Kizhakkambalam, has done this successfully. It said No to politicians and elected leaders on the basis of the services they do for the people. The Panchayat has made tremendous progress ever since. People’s welfare is not a difficult task at all. If that appears difficult, it just means that you don’t have the right kind of leaders. This is India’s curse today. It has criminals wearing holy robes and occupying high positions of power.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Beyond Covid

 


My early morning visitor today
My early morning visitor today

Half a year is a pretty long period in the autumn of one’s life. Covid has consumed as much as that at a time when I was contemplating certain substantial changes in my lifestyle. I wanted to do some travelling first of all, some long-distance drives on weekends along with Maggie. That was meant to be my way of making the imminent retirement a smooth transition from the classroom to the cosmos. Ironically, my cosmos shrank to my table with a laptop and the current book. Ironies are inescapable companions throughout life.

Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge kept me blissfully engaged in April and the exercise ended in the creation of a book about books: Great Books for Great Thoughts. This volume is available absolutely free; just a click on the given link is all that it costs you.

Online classes have provided me the only meaningful contact with the world from May onwards. The alarming spread of the pandemic prompted me to look at the meaning of suffering and the result was a short book: Coping with Suffering. After reading that book, one of my fellow bloggers wondered whether the pandemic had brought about a religious conversion in me. The book looks at suffering from the points of view of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism before doing the same from more literary and secular angles. For once I found myself dealing with religions with considerable benignity which made my friend wonder about my possible conversion.

June and July found me experimenting with Google docs and forms so that I could make some effective changes to my online classes. One of my former colleagues in Delhi assisted me generously by sending me a lot of information about sites that can be of immense help to online teachers. The latest such message from her landed in my phone yesterday: Open digital educational tools for interactive online teaching and learning. I have not been able to employ much of this in the actual classroom yet. Technology has its limits too.

What amuses me most is the increased interaction between my students and me when we don’t meet each other at all. Many of them call me and more of them use messaging systems to be in personal touch. A few of them have become part of the family, so to say, with Maggie too joining in the lively conversations that have little to do with classes. The profession has certain joys that have nothing much to do with the profession!

Life goes on in spite of Covid. But the alarming rate of the increase in affected cases day after day takes away much of the joy. Maybe, Covid is here to stay with us for a while and we have to learn to live with it.


PS. I collected 30 of my short stories too during this period and the anthology, Love in the Time of Corona, is available as an e-book. 

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Why I Write

 

One of the most delightful essays of George Orwell is ‘Why I Write’ which I read as a young student of a creative writing course of IGNOU. With ruthless candidness Orwell identifies “sheer egoism” as the first reason for his writing. “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc…” Orwell goes on to say that “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.”

I embrace Orwell wholeheartedly here. I am an inveterate egoist in the above Orwellian sense, every bit of it including those grown-ups, and that egoism probably remains at the top of my list too if you hurl on my face the question why I write. But that can’t be the sole reason for any worthwhile writer. Orwell has listed a few more of them in his essay and I won’t ever dare to dispute any of them.

Political purpose is mentioned as the last point by Orwell. He defines it as “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” My writing has been driven by this political purpose ever since Mr Modi ascended the throne in Indraprastha. It is because I don’t accept the kind of politics that Mr Modi practises. Mr Modi made me a political writer.

Even otherwise there was a didactic element in my writings, I don’t deny. Bernard Shaw is one writer who defended his didacticism fanatically. I don’t write anything unless it is to teach something, he declared. [I can’t recall his exact words.] I can say the same about my writing too.

I don’t claim to be wise, however. If I write like a teacher, it is not because I think I know more than anyone else. It is rather because I feel I have a right to express my views in a world of people who are capable of thinking. Moreover, I am a teacher by profession. I know that I have influenced (and continue to do so) quite many young minds as a teacher. I would like to do the same with adults as a writer. Forgive me if this ambition sounds vain or presumptuous.

I have been told too many times by friends and well-wishers that my writing tends to be too acerbic to do good. The acid is not intended. Not usually, at least. Writing is not an entirely conscious process. The roots of your words lie in your subconscious mind. The acid belongs there too. I must borrow from Shaw once again here: “I do not know what I think until I write it.”

Frankly, I don’t write with the conscious intention to hurt anyone, not even Mr Modi whom I consider as one of the most inferior minds that ever sat on the country’s prime throne. Modi is the antithesis of all that I value: the Enlightenment ideals. When the most powerful person in your country turns out to be the exterminator of all that you hold sacred, your heart will be on fire. Acid will flow in your veins.

I write in order to cling to those ideals which are being exterminated. I write primarily to salvage my own heart.

 

PS. Thanks to Sonia Dogra [one of the gentlest souls I ever came to know in the virtual world] who tagged me in Facebook to a post by another blogger friend, Deepa Gopal, [a genius with the brush and the pen] which in turn made me write this.  

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ayodhya’s Triumphalist Majoritarianism

 

Every people love to belong to the winning side. Victory has more intoxications than religion. In fact, religion has been used more for achieving earthly conquests than for attaining spiritual bliss. In Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir, PM Modi is offering the nation (all the 130 crore people, in his own words) both intoxications: earthly and heavenly. How?

Earthly Conquest

The Ram Mandir is a symbol of the majority community’s triumph over the minorities and secularists and liberals – all the antinationals, in the new lingo. See, we have the power to bring down your god and his mosque – however historical the mosque may be – and put our own god there in a splendid temple and that too when the country is struggling with a pandemic and concomitant numerous other crises. That is the message from Ayodhya now. This country is not yours anymore; it is unarguably ours, one particular community’s. We are the victors and you are the vanquished.

No one wants to be on the side of the vanquished. So most people are happy to join the side of the victors. These people happily justify the construction of the temple at a time when:

·        unemployment rate is the highest in the country’s history

·        poverty and starvation stare bleakly from rising number of huts and slums

·        crude oil prices mock us from across the borders

·        even the maps metamorphose at those same borders

·        the impacts of poorly implemented schemes such as GST and demonetisation are still poking our soles like spikes on the way

·        crimes are mounting in various shapes: lynching, bank frauds (more than 23,000 cases since 2014), assaults

·        students, protestors and activists are arrested as traitors

·        thousands of crores are spent on advertisements meant to sell us post-truths

·        farmers are committing suicide or contemplating suicide in ever larger numbers

These are small inconveniences on the way to historical victory. Small prices for big gains. Our god has won. We have saved the national pride in the process. We can now boast to the infinite spaces that we have corrected a historical wrong. We have recaptured lost territories.

From whom?

Don’t ask that. If we have to answer that, our victory will burst will like a gossamer balloon we hoisted in the air. How can we admit that our enemies were the poor and downtrodden people who eked out a meagre living in their slums and hutments? How can we admit that we were lynching helpless people who did not even possess the strength to raise a finger in protest? How can we accept ourselves as mere hooligans who obeyed the diktats of our semi-literate leaders who shouted in moments of passion to “shoot the traitors”?

We can’t do any of that, obviously.

Spiritual conquest

So let us claim that we have reclaimed our god and his temple from the marauders of centuries ago? We are correcting the wrongs of history. We are saving none less than our god from the mleccha people and their debris of history. We are the greatest warriors on earth, warriors who fought for their god and none less. We will reap our heavenly rewards. All these earthly sorrows and pains you bear in the process will be nothing in comparison with your spiritual contribution to history.

Rehabilitating god at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was the very purpose of PM Modi’s incarnation. राम काजु कीन्हे बिनु मोहि कहाँ बिश्राम॥ as Modi said in his speech after laying the foundation stone of the Mandir. It was a divinely assigned task. Just like the ones with which Ram was born, Krishna was born, and all those gods were born.

“Today, the Ram Janmabhoomi has become free from the centuries-old chain of destruction and resurrection,” Modi declared rhetorically and asked the people to join him in hailing the god that was liberated from the chain of destruction and resurrection. We are the liberators of god. What more spiritual bliss do you wish for?

Our motherland is superior to the heaven of gods, Modi declared in that speech. What more do you want, dear countryman?

Conclusion

The Ram Mandir coming up in Ayodhya is going to be a landmark in the history of India. It is the end of India as a secular nation. Those who don’t believe in Ram – “the most virtuous ruler in the entire world” in Modi’s words – and those who don’t accept the liberator of that god as the country’s only leader will sink in the riled waters of the country’s history. Lord Rama has only just begun to fill his quiver with arrows.


xZx

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Innocence



One of my friends in the village narrated an interesting anecdote. He heard a villager pray to his god one day for a strong wind in the night so that one of the trees in his neighbour’s farm would fall. “That would give me firewood for a month,” the villager explained when questioned.

His neighbour is a very kind man who lets him take firewood whenever dry branches of trees fall in the farm. “But why don’t you ask your god to solve your problem without wishing harm for your kind neighbour?” My friend questioned the villager who knew the neighbour too.

The villager said, “That’s true. I never thought of that.”

The villager was quite innocent. He really didn’t mean harm to his neighbour whom he held in high regard. But his firewood was running out and winds were quite common in the area and the winds brought down branches of trees frequently. It was only fair to ask god to send a wind in the nearest farm. It would be easier to carry the firewood home from the nearest farm. He wasn’t wishing any evil for anyone.

“Maybe the guy is not so innocent,” I suggested when my friend related this to me. “Maybe he knew his god was not magnanimous enough to perform some outlandish miracle.” A wind is not much of a miracle here.

My friend who is familiar with my cynicism even about gods laughed. “Of course, it is more sensible to pray for what can really happen. After all, winds are regular phenomena here. But the guy who prayed is really innocent. Innocence is limited imagination.”

“True,” I said. “Children are innocent precisely because their imagination is limited to the here and now. They don’t worry about the future, about what others think, or even about their own impishness.”

He liked that last part. “Let me absorb that,” he said. “The loss of the delusion that you like yourself is the real end of innocence, right?”

I couldn’t have put it better. I raised a toast to my friend’s wisdom. “I lost my innocence as a little child,” I said as I raised the glass merrily to my lips.

“Hmm,” he made a grimace. “And you lost your virginity in the library. Cheers.”





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

History’s Gargoyle in Ayodhya

Ayodhya Temple, national pride?


In a few hours from now Prime Minister Modi will lay a 40 kg silver brick in Ayodhya to mark the beginning of the construction of a humungous temple. India is grappling with a deadly pandemic like most countries in the world. India is the fifth worst affected country and given the country’s enormous population any sane leader would think of spending revenue on providing better medical facilities. But Modi knows how to earn his place in recorded history: architecture. He spent an incredibly large sum on a statue that stands 600 feet tall on lands that belonged to 185 families. Mr Modi seems to think that the statue will give a stiff competition to the Taj Mahal.

If not the statue, this temple in Ayodhya should give that competition. There’s more in the offing too: Central Vista in Delhi. Mr Modi can surely hope to get his name imprinted in history as THE ARCHITECT of endemic India in pandemic times.

The Ayodhya temple has much emotive potential and Mr Modi wants to make political capital on that. It is a symbol of history’s revenge on the Mughals and their descendants who dominated the country’s ethos for very long. Call it cultural vengeance, if you wish. Modi emerges as the colossal, historical defender and guardian of Hindu religion and culture. He hopes that history will put him at least on a par with, if not above, Akbar and Shah Jahan. Mediocre souls do not possess the imagination to be different from their enemies!

A great mind existing in 21st century would have thought of replacing gods and temples with whatever could enhance the quality of the life of the people under one’s charge. The primary duty of any elected political leader is to ensure the welfare of the people who elected him. Millions of those people who elected Modi walked hundreds of kilometres when the pandemic broke out and Modi declared lockdown. The people lost their jobs. They starved. They had to vacate their residences. They walked to their villages where starvation awaited them. What did Modi do? Promised them a historical temple, Pie in the Sky.

The people are to be blamed too. They supported Modi’s bigotry for enjoying vicarious pleasures of historical conquests. They imagined themselves to be conquerors when they lynched hapless victims on streets and byways and Modi pretended not to see. Now they gloat over the glorious temple to come up in the place of the mosque they had brought down. They know the temple is going to give them the satisfaction of a few historical belches.

Belches of satiated egos make up most human history. The Ayodhya temple will be another of Modi’s historical belches. For the future generations, it will appear as a gargoyle built on the edifice of human civilisation. Thank our stars, we still have medical professionals who are ready to take risks for the sake of our real civilisation.

PS. My 2 earlier posts on Ayodhya:     Ayodhya Politics – 1 [old history]
                                                               Ayodhya Politics – 2 [later history]

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where do old birds go to die?

Krishna Hari is a class 12 student. She writes stunning poems which carry evocative images and provoking metaphors. As her English teacher, I am proud to feature one of her poems in this space. 

Krishna Hari
Krishna Hari


The old birds in my yard⠀
Fly away to distant lands⠀
For deceptive summer eves have come⠀
Yet again with their wild rains⠀
And malicious clouds.⠀
I sit on my balcony cross-legged⠀
Sipping warm whiskey⠀
Watching the sunset paint ⠀
The northern skies sepia.⠀
I hear the rustling leaves of the devil's trees⠀
Within the premises of that old temple by the lake⠀
Where women used to worship serpents and fairies once⠀
Collapsed into a rubble of stones with time.⠀
Eerie questions suck on the abysses
Under my skin like leeches⠀
And I feel as if I'm⠀
On the edge of an apocalypse.⠀
I ask, "Who makes leaves fall in autumn"?⠀
"Why were thorny roses prettier than tranquil jasmines"?⠀
"Where do old birds go to die ?⠀
Do they ever cry for their wrinkled destinies ?⠀
Do their tears fall off from their homes in the highs of heavenly trees ?⠀
Do their nestlings weep at their demises?"⠀
I heave a deep sigh into the cold air⠀
Close my eyes and see old birds going to die.⠀
And I tell myself⠀
'Maybe I'll mourn their death at my own grave.'

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Fallen Leaf: review


Fall is an integral part of human life. There is the natural season of fall (autumn) and there are the human falls of errors and misfortunes. There is also the sweet falling in love. Falling out of love is also a part of life. A Fallen Leaf is an anthology of 15 short stories written by 15 different writers but blend together coherently like the warp and woof of an elegant fabric. These stories revolve around the various falls in human lives.

 All the stories are written in the conventional method of plot development. There is a problem which grows complex towards a denouement and the final resolution. Sharanya Mishra’s ‘A Mosaic on the Garden Floor’ is an exception insofar as it melds a couple of subplots and builds up a mosaic instead of a single picture. Each story has its own conventional lesson to teach too. Even Olinda Braganza’s ‘A Tryst with a Twist’ which has the trappings of science fiction ends with a blushing hint of a moral lesson. In short, here are 15 stories that will gratify lovers of conventional literature.

 They sustain the reader’s interest invariably. Each one is a delight in its own right. None of them relies on any stilted technical scaffolding or linguistic garnishing to add high heels or glittering feathers to the body of the story. The story is narrated forthrightly. Once again, Sharanya Mishra’s ‘Mosaic’ may be a whiff of an exception, but she is offering a mosaic after all.

The similarities notwithstanding, these stories are all unique. We are told in the Foreword that the volume is an outcome of a contest organised by a writer’s collective known as Penmancy. The writers emerge from different walks of life and different parts of the planet and consequently the stories carry much diversity.

 Rianka Saha’s protagonist in the very first story of the anthology is a strong woman caught up in a patriarchal trap, though a royal one, but redeems herself with a bold assertion of her individuality. The story is very contemporary in spite of the archaic setting in a palace. The depth of the protagonist’s character is treated with subtle irony and remarkable sensitivity.

 Physical appearance matters much in today’s world especially for women. Saravjot Hansrao’s ‘The (Mis)fit’ present a 30-year-old woman who is “the proud owner of everything magnanimous” from “physical stature to attitude”. She longs for a fall, “a fall in her weight”, which never happens. But she is lucky to have a dad who counsels her not to drink and drive. And eventually to be fit enough for a place where she really longed to be.

 Shailaja Pai traces a similar theme in ‘Useless’. Her protagonist ejects herself from her workplace which makes her feel terrible and self-hating. The real question is whether you are really useless or you happen to be in the wrong place.

 Srikanth Singha Ray’s story ‘Hope’ shows that you can overcome a deep-rooted fear by choosing to plunge into a risky uncertainty for the sake of another person.

 Koushik Majumder’s ‘Refugee’ is an exception in the collection in a way because it is the only one that treats a socio-political theme: refugees. The author succeeds eminently in portraying the helplessness, longings, and existential agonies of people who have been ejected from their countries by political violence of the sort that is becoming increasingly common in our world.

 Love is the most universal theme in literature and it has infinite shades. Sitharaam Jayakumar offers a prismatic view of the ‘Varied Moods and Seasons’ of love with his romantic tragedy that brings a Hindu-Muslim couple together before destiny hits their idyllic romance too cruelly. But there is also a redemptive aspect to this tragedy.

 ‘Second Chances’ by Kavitha Kandaswamy heals a broken relationship with a new one that emerges rather unexpectedly in a café. Sometimes clichés work, the story shows pretty neatly.

 Love is not all romance. There are family relationships. Chandrika R Krishnan’s ‘House’ takes a classical look at those with the help of a huge joint family that is broken up because of the mother’s insensitivity but is brought together another sensitive soul in the family. Sensitivity is the soul of human relationships, Krishnan teaches us.

 The grandmother in Em Kay’s ‘All for the Blossoms’ is an epitome of family bonds which need not always end with people but can extend to places like one’s ancestral home. Em Kay’s story has a unique evocative power in a world that is fast losing touch with ancestry.

 Like love, guilt and redemption is another universal theme and Kajal Kapur does justice to it with her story ‘Behind the Bars’. Not all criminals are wicked people. Kapur explores the shades of goodness in two convicts with a good measure of subtlety.

 Nilutpal Gohain’s ‘The Funeral’ stands out in this volume because of the dark comedy it oozes. The occasion of a funeral becomes hilariously comic in Gohain’s dexterous approach to the theme of the essential absurdity of human life and death. It is a remarkably brilliant story that serves as much more than a comic relief in this serious anthology.

 ‘The Torchbearer’ by Sreemati Sen Karmakar and Olinda Braganza’s ‘A Tryst with a Twist’ float on the ethereal wings of the supernatural or the paranormal though the latter reads more like sci-fi. Karmakar liberates her ghosts in the conventional way while Braganza leaves us with a question about a rather intimidating possibility.

 The anthology ends with the religious allegory of Rham Dhel. Her ‘Two Pilgrims’ will remind the reader of certain biblical characters and themes which are as relevant today as ever. What is the essence of spirituality? That is what she makes us ponder on.

 

PS. The book was an eminent weekend entertainment and I am grateful to Sitharaam Jayakumar, one of the authors in the anthology, for gifting me a copy. Copies are available at Amazon.