Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reshaping memories

 


How reliable are our memories? Not much, as a source of objective truths. Memories do play a vital role in our lives for various reasons. But if you think your memories are the true records of what really happened in the past, you are mistaken. “Remembering is not a passionate or dispassionate retelling of a reality that is no more, but a new birth of the past,” says Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her book, The Unwomanly Face of War. Memory doesn’t merely remember what actually happened but re-creates it.

The narrator of Julian Barnes’s novel, The Sense of an Ending, says rightly that what we end up remembering isn’t always the same as what we have witnessed. We add colours and patterns in order to make painful realities more acceptable. We “adjust, embellish, make sly cuts,” as Barnes puts it.

We don’t do it consciously. We are not being villains by adjusting, embellishing, and making those sly cuts. On the contrary, we are doing our best to make sense of what has happened.

Life has no intrinsic meaning. Whatever meaning it has is given by us. Unless we add those meanings, life will be unbearable. The sheer absurdity, ridiculousness, villainy, perversion… of what we did and what was done to us by others will weigh us down like millstones around our necks without the rearrangements we do to our memories. Actual memories can be brutal monsters. Modified memories are palliatives.

Svetlana Alexievich goes on to say that educated people’s memories are less reliable because “they are infected by secondary knowledge. By myths.” Educated people have additional reasons for modifying memories, in other words. Their knowledge about a lot of related issues comes into play and reshapes memories substantially.

This is the case of events that happened to us. What will be the case of events that happened long, long ago? Centuries ago?

We rely much on history for understanding our past. How reliable is history? How much of it has been reshaped by various people for various reasons?

In the last few years, India has been trying to reshape its history, both recent and ancient. Since we possess a lot of literature about the recent history, we have ways and means of checking the modifications done to that. But what about the history of centuries ago? What happens when a country decides to re-create a 5000-year-old past?

We will get new myths, that’s all. As individuals we reshape our memories and some of them end up as myths which console us for our failures, comfort us in our moments of grief, give us hope in times of despair… Is India trying to do the same as a nation? Create an alternate history that soothes our national ego? Create a new myth in which we will appear as some colossal heroes while others [like the Mughals and the British] become villains?

What purpose does it serve in the end? Are we hoodwinking ourselves? The world is not going to be hoodwinked anyway.

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Teacher from another galaxy

"Crumbling is not an instant's act": Emily Dickinson


If I were given a choice to order something from the cosmos, I would want an intelligent entity from another galaxy to come and teach certain essential lessons to my fellow creatures on earth. I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of intelligent entities out there in the infinite spaces.

Like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, for example. Just imagine Little Prince standing before Amit Shah and telling him in all innocence that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Imagine the Yogi of UP being told, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

The Little Prince isn’t an intellectual giant. He is a child. But he has a far more advanced consciousness than anyone on our earth. That consciousness sets him on a pedestal high above the greatest of people on earth. Come and teach us that level of consciousness: that’s what my wish is from any power in the cosmos that can possibly do it.

Just imagine a creature visiting us from some planet out there. The very fact that he is able to reach us would imply that he belongs to a superior species. What would he think of us after observing us for a few days?

Look at the weapons we have stockpiled worldwide, for instance. We spend about 1.7 trillion dollars [1700000000000] annually on weapons meant to kill others of our own species just because they believe in different gods [where are they? The alien wonders], belong to different races [what’s that? The alien asks], have skins of different colours, noses of different shapes…

About 800,000 people choose to kill themselves on earth every year in spite of having so many weapons with which they can kill everybody else and possess the entire planet for themselves. More than 2000 people of the earth kill themselves every day! [That’s better than the bigger number being killed by others, the alien would realise soon.]

9 out of 10 people on earth are breathing in air that is polluted by themselves, according to WHO. The alien gasps more in wonder than for breath. What idiots is he dealing with here on earth? Looking at our skyscrapers, flyovers, and Statue of Unity, the alien had been under the impression that he was visiting a civilised planet.

“Civilisation, you say?” The alien is questioned by Mr Bhakt who goes on to boast about some 5000-year-old civilisation which believed that some people came from the feet of some god while some others came from the head. “No one from the penis?” The alien wonders. On his planet, let us assume, the penis and the vagina have better roles to play than have foreskins to mark identities or clitorises to mark subjugation.

The alien would probably run away without completing even a fraction of his visit on the earth.

I’m left longing for one who will dare to stay back and tell us that we are just humbugs. That we have a long, long way to travel before we become even a fraction of what advanced creatures are like on other planets. That we haven’t even put our feet on to the road of civilisation yet. That we can begin now, if we wish. That all our missiles and foreskins are not the ultimate truths or powers. That… yes, that we have something called a heart that can do more than just pump the blood.

 

PS. This has been provoked by Indispire Edition 349: You can order anything from the cosmic catalog, What would you order? Make yourself- very clear the universe is listening. #enrichinglives

  

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Let yourself bloom

 


Book Review

Title: You are Blooming

Author: Swarnali Nath

Amazon E-book, 2020

 “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side,” Rig Veda exhorts. We live in rather ignoble times. A global pandemic has revealed more potently than anything else our vulnerability even before a microscopic virus. In spite of that, we don’t seem to learn the essential lessons. We keep fighting in the names of gods and religions. We keep chopping people’s heads to prove the might of our gods. Nations threaten one another for a few acres of land in the border areas. Men rape and kill little girls for reasons that only they and their gods know. No, we won’t ever learn lessons.

That is why certain lessons become more and more relevant in spite of the fact that they are not new. Certain stories of love and compassion, grace and beauty, sunshine and bliss need be told again and again. We need be reminded again and again of our capacity for regeneration, the urgent need for that regeneration. This is what Swarnali Nath’s e-book, You are Blooming, does. It is yet another much-needed reminder that we can redeem ourselves at any time, however tough the going is getting.

The book is divided into three parts of equal lengths: Hope, Beauty, and Grace – each part has 7 chapters. Rather, 7 letters addressed to the seeker of happiness. The author speaks in the voice of a spiritual guru speaking to her disciple. The style is conversational though monologic and it is meant to touch the heart rather than the intellect. Certain transformations need to take place in the heart and not in the intellect. Swarnali is speaking about such transformations.

Here is a voice that seeks to bring more light into an increasingly darkening world, more love into a world being smothered by bitterness, more hope against the mounting despair. Here is a book that seeks to release the bird with broken wings back into the sky to which it belongs. This is a book that adds grace and charm to life, bringing noble thoughts from every side.

The book is available here.

PS. This blog is participating in the #MyFriendAlexa campaign of the Blogchatter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Charm of the Devil – 2

 

Jack London - Image from here

For the 1st part of this, click here.

Wolf Larsen, the protagonist of Jack London’s novel The Sea Wolf, is a devil for all practical purposes. He can be ruthlessly cruel if he wants. He can engage you in an intellectual conversation about morality or literature when he is in the mood for that. He can throw one of his crew into the ocean just because his shirt stinks. When that man loses a foot to a shark in the ocean before being pulled aboard, Larsen can shrug his shoulders saying that the shark was not in his control or plan.

What makes Wolf Larsen a charming devil is his brutal honesty. He knows that life has no purpose other than prolong itself as much as it can. “You have no fictions, no dreams, no ideals,” the narrator tells Wolf. It is fictions, dreams, and ideals that constitute nobility. We would all be subhuman brutes without our fictions, dreams, and ideals. Add Wolf’s brutal honesty to that and we would be heartless devils.

What keep human civilizations alive and kicking are their fiction, dreams, and ideals. Imagine life without our gods, religions, isms, arts, literature, and umpteen other fictions and dreams. We need these fictions and dreams to tame the devils within us.

But those tamed devils are not as charming as the untamed Wolf Larsen. Towards the end of the novel, Wolf is rendered totally helpless by some disease which is assumed to be brain tumour. He loses his eyesight and is racked by paroxysms of headache. One whole side of his body is becoming paralysed. He doesn’t want to live anymore because such helpless existence is not life. Life has to be pulsating with energy. Life is an intoxication.

Wolf wants to die because his life now is at the mercy of others which he can’t accept. He asks the narrator to kill him. The narrator has enough and more reasons for killing this monster in human shape. Even when Wolf wants to destroy the last chance of their escape from a remote part in the vast ocean, the narrator is incapable of killing him. He can’t kill a helpless man.

“And you know that I would kill an unarmed man as readily as I would smoke a cigar,” Wolf mocks him. “You know me for what I am – my worth in the world by your standard. You have called me snake, tiger, shark, monster, and Caliban. And yet, your little rag puppet, you little echoing mechanism, you are unable to kill me as you would a snake or a shark because I have hands, feet, and a body shaped somewhat like yours.”

Wolf is mocking the narrator’s sophistication, his “fictions, dreams, and ideals”.

The utter ruthlessness that Wolf possesses because he has no fictions, dreams, and ideals is part of what makes the devilish character charming. The other part is his brutal honesty. No ordinary human being is capable of such blunt honesty. Wolf will tell you exactly what he thinks or feels. He doesn’t need the sophistication of any fiction or dream or even simple figures of speech. Worse, he knows that our sophistication is mostly a sham. Scratch our sophistication, and devilishness bleeds out. In other words, Wolf Larsen is a mirror that his creator holds up before us. See how different you are really from him. And the difference is caused not by any heroism but by cowardice! We are plain hypocrites, in plain words. Wolf Larsen exposes our hypocrisy. That is what makes the devil fascinating.

It is quite obvious that Jack London had some admiration for this diabolic character. Just before his death, London gave his wife a ring and asked her to have it engraved. “With what?” she asked. “How about ‘Wolf to Mate’?” London had called himself Wolf for a long time. His dream house which he built in the Valley of the Moon in California was named Wolf House.

London’s description of Wolf Larsen commanding his ship in a gale is revelatory: “He was an earth god, dominating the storm…” An earth god! Yet wasn’t he the devil? Well, the distance between a god and a devil is not as big as you think.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Charm of the Devil - 1

 

Caliban

The devil is a far more interesting character than god in the Bible and quite a lot of Christian literature like Paradise Lost. He is authentic. His authenticity makes him rebel against god who is a bombastic and whimsical character. The devil’s problem, however, is not with god’s self-conceit and capriciousness. His problem is why he should endure all that and remain a slave to such an entity. The devil has self-respect and wants to assert his individuality and dignity. Hierarchical systems don’t like people with self-respect and individuality.

Human beings love to create hierarchies. Our gods sit at the top of all our hierarchies and they are as hideous entities as the creators of our hierarchies. Our gods are the supernatural projections of our leaders. In other words, our gods are created in the images of our leaders who create our hierarchies. Our leaders obviously know how to make use of these gods for various purposes: political as well as others. You can bring a billion people to their knees before you if you have the right god(s) with you.

There are always villains, however, who won’t bend their knees so easily. They are a tiny minority and hence not too problematic. If they become problematic, you can always behave like your god and pronounce a new commandment like UAPA or TADA. Even then that self-respecting tiny minority won’t bend their knees, of course. That tiny minority constitute the legion of devils.

Jack London’s character, Wolf Larsen, is one such devil. The novel, The Sea Wolf, is not particularly outstanding as a work of literature. But it has continued to draw the attention of readers for over a century now because of the character of Wolf Larsen.

“You are a man utterly without what the world calls morals?” the narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden, asks Wolf Larsen.

That’s it,” Wolf agrees instantly.

Humphrey goes on to compare him to “a snake, or a tiger, or a shark.”

Now you know me,” responds Wolf.

You are a sort of monster.” Humphrey doesn’t seem to know what Wolf really is. After calling him many names, Humphrey then says that Wolf is “a Caliban who has pondered Setebos and who acts as you act, in idle moments, by whim and fancy.”

There you are. Whim and fancy. That’s the Biblical god, Yahweh. Caliban is a monster from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and the reference here is to Robert Browning’s re-creation of Shakespeare’s Caliban. Setebos is Caliban’s god who also acts by whim and fancy. Caliban, like any devotee, can’t be much different from his god. And most gods are bizarre creatures irrespective of their religions.

Wolf Larsen chooses to be his own god. It’s not a choice really. One of the most neglected truths is that we don’t have too many choices. Our character is mostly given to us by the chromosomes that constitute us, the environment in which we grew up, our teachers, well-wishers, priests, and gods. Our choices are limited by our character. Wolf Larsen’s character was no different. Yet he remains fascinating to a lot of readers even today, a century after his death in the novel to which he belonged. Why? Let’s take a break today. The answer to that why is very interesting. As interesting as the devil himself. See you tomorrow with a sequel to this post. Why is the devil more interesting than any gods?

 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Let go the past



Living in the past is a psychological disease. Psychology has identified clear signs of the disease. If a person tends to speak about his past too much, about certain people who caused him pain in the past, and compares his present situation with previous ones, you can be pretty sure the guy has serious problems from the past that need be resolved in order for him to live a healthy present life. Such people tend to be attracted to or obsessed with the same type of people that caused them pain in the past. Their disagreements often surround past arguments. They are easily bored or frustrated. They indulge in self-sabotaging behaviour.

After Mr Modi became the Prime Minister, India behaves like the pathological patient described above. We as a nation keep talking about past glories and wounds. Our entire discourses are constructed around past events that should have been buried long ago. We are wreaking vengeance on today’s people for offences committed by their supposed ancestors centuries ago. Worst of all, we are becoming just like those enemies whom we are fighting.

There is no doubt that our past has much role in shaping our present. That happens to every citizen and every nation. So what? Do people and nations go around with cudgels seeking to beat up the ghosts of the past? There are people who were far more badly wounded in the past. The original inhabitants of America and Australia, for instance. They were almost wiped off the face of the earth by the invaders. India is much better off comparatively.

At any rate, invasions and conquests and violence were all integral parts of human existence in the past. Most people committed all those atrocities. Not only nations and historical conquerors, but also tribal warriors and caste leaders and princes of hundred-acre-kingdoms did the same: attack, plunder, and rape. Trying to wreak vengeance on today’s people for all those ancient crimes is as foolish as taking pride in the achievements of our forefathers.

The past is gone. Buried. We are condemned to live in the present. We are condemned to grapple with the problems of the present. We have no real choices otherwise. All that talk about the bygone past is just blah-blah that may sound nice and can rouse the rabble. Nothing good will come of it, however. We will end up sabotaging ourselves in the end if we fix our minds on crap from history. Look at how India is sinking low and lower as years go by in the various rankings like Poverty Index, Corruption Index, Freedom of the Press, and so on.

We need to reboot. Reset. Bury the past. Deal with the present.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 348: Clinging to history and its supposed greatness is as foolish as maintaining that your bum has calluses because your great grandfather rode on an elephant. Real greatness lies in dealing successfully with the present. India should let the past go. #GrappleWithPresent

This blog is participating in the #MyFriendAlexa Campaign of the Blogchatter.

 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Other Side of Compassion

 


One of the mysteries that has baffled me again and again, like a cancerous pain, is the cosy coexistence of religions and cruelty. All kinds of cruelties were imposed on fellow human beings in the name of gods ever since religions were born. We did it in ancient India. They did it in all ancient civilisations.

Compassion is the very root of Christianity’s theology. Yet no religion was as ruthlessly cruel as that for centuries in the medieval period. Islam has continued that ruthlessness, which Christianity gave up a few centuries ago, up to this day. Hinduism, under Mr Modi’s charismatic leadership, seems to be all set to take up the same tradition now – with a slight difference: Mr Modi’s acolytes have changing tastes. Young girls seem to be the favoured targets these days. Lynching in the name of cows was in vogue till the other day. Perhaps, the fad may change again soon since fads don’t have much longevity even with divine sanctions.

Why are our gods such dismal failures? There are numerous possible answers. I would like to focus on one, however. Our religions have got certain fundamental aspects wrong. Compassion for fellow creatures is one such aspect.

Religions teach compassion for all possibly wrong reasons. They teach us things like all creatures are divine sparks and hence the other is no less divine as I am. I am taught to respect the divinity in the other person. Just imagine the nine-year-old girl being asked to see the spark of divinity in her eleven rapists! Imagine a Karel Hasler or Otto Wallburg being told to appreciate the divine spark in Hitler. I wonder how many victims of the Gujarat riots of 2002 would be able to stand in reverence before the Modi idol in that Rajkot temple dedicated to him.

Nah, it is rather cruel if not pernicious to teach that sort of compassion to people just because we live in a world where the wicked flourish and the innocent perish. Gods are good moral tales but bad life skills. That’s why they fail inevitably. Show me one god who has succeeded in making the human affairs an iota better.

Religions should change their teachings. Instead of teaching divine sparks and all that stuff, teach rational compassion. Teach people why compassion is a better choice than anything else. Teach people to choose goodness because that is the only reasonable choice they really have. Everything else creates hells and hells aren’t quite comfortable places to live in. We deserve better. We can get a better world. That better world is our choice, our creation, our own heaven.

Our dream, rather.

PS. This blog is participating in the #MyFriendAlexa campaign of Blogchatter.

 

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fragmented People

 Book Review

Title: A Horse Walks into a Bar

Author: David Grossman

Translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

Publisher: Penguin, 2016

Award: Man Booker International, 2017

 


Too many people have been burdened with the authorship of the sentence, “Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.” David Grossman, Israeli writer, presents the tragicomedy of Dovaleh Greenstein in this dangerously gripping novel.

Dovaleh G is what our hero calls himself. “Dovaleh, long for Dov, which is just like ‘dove’ except less peaceful, and G, like the spot, the apple of my dick.” That’s the protagonist’s self-introduction to his audience in a club in Netanya, a small town in Israel. He is both a thinker and a feeler. So his life has been both tragic and comic. But who sees the tragedy? He has been a stand-up comedian and laughter is what people associate him with. But a painfully fragmented heart is what he has been carrying around ever since his childhood.

His father, a barber, was far from being affectionate towards him. Families are not the best places to learn love from. “One minute they hug you, the next they beat the crap out of you with a belt, and it’s all from love,” Dov says recalling his father’s belt. “Believe me, Dovchu, sometimes a slap is worth a thousand words” is one of Dov’s father’s “jokes”.

Dov was not spared by his companions at school. ‘Hit the Dovaleh’ was one of their favourite games. “Nothing serious, here a slap, there a kick, a little punch in the stomach, the way you stamp a timecard. Have you hit your Dovaleh yet today?

In order to escape all that torture Dov learnt to walk on his hands. He walked on his hands from school to home. You can’t hit a boy who walks on his hands because you don’t know where to hit or kick, you can’t make out where his face or stomach or any organ is.

But Dov never looked unhappy. On the contrary, he looked happier than the others, says the narrator who was his boyhood friend for a while. Avishai Lazar, the narrator, is a retired judge and has been invited specially by Dov to the present stand-up show. Why? To tell what he sees. Lazar is not interested but is compelled by Dov to attend the show. He wants to walk out of the show many times but is held back by a mysterious power. The same mysterious power holds us back too as we read this novel.  The audience in that club is like a bunch of hostages held by Dov whose show is far from being comic. He is narrating his own story. He stands in need of a catharsis which he is going to get by telling some people how “Man plans (and) God fucks him”.

Many from the audience walk out eventually. But most stay back because we all love to see God fucking other people. The temptation “to look into another man’s hell” is irresistible.  Grossman indicts us as much as Dov does his audience, however obliquely. We all love to hit the Dovaleh. We do hit. Come and see how. That’s what Dov tells Lazar and that’s what the novel tells us, the readers.

This novel grips us like an octopus with all its tentacles. Perhaps, this book cannot even be called a novel. It is something else. We may need a new genre to classify it. It has no plot. No character development. Not even dialogues in the traditional sense. And certainly no denouement. The fragments remain so at the end too – a little more broken perhaps. We are the fragments. “To be whole, it is enough to exist,” the narrator is reminded by his beloved writer. Is it?

 

This blog is participating in Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa campaign.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Crafts for Kids

 Book Review

A to Z Crafts for Kidz

By Kinshoo Agrawal

Children are creative by nature. The school smothers that creativity slowly with all the mugging up and other unimaginative acts of omission and commission that constitute the academic systems in our country. Of course, there are a few boards and schools that nurture each child’s creativity using ingenious methods. But not all can afford those schools. Here is a book that can easily solve the problem.

Kinshoo Agrawal’s e-book is a rich source of ideas for engaging your child creatively using simple things that are available at home or quite easily from the neighbourhood stationer. As the author mentions in the beginning of the book, “Crafts and creative activities are proven to be helpful in early learning and early childhood development.” She goes on to elaborate the merits and benefits of crafts for kids and also gives some very vital guidelines to parents and other adults who are dealing with these kids.

The book provides a wide variety of crafts such as ‘Create with Clay Dough/Play Dough’, ‘Diwali Crafts and Acrtivities’, and an assortment of greeting cards. Each section has an introduction that tells you about the materials required and the learning outcomes. A couple of pages is given below as an example.

This book is an excellent support material for any parent who wishes to nurture the creativity of a child. Nurturing children’s creativity is important because without that nurturing children grow up into the kind of robots we see around us these days, creatures who act mechanically, puppets driven by string-pulling. Nurturing creativity helps children to grow up into fully alive adults driven by inquisitiveness and trust in themselves. Eventually it leads to the creation of a better world. Kinshoo Agarwal’s contribution towards the creation of a better world deserves appreciation. 

The book is available here.

This blog is participating in Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa Campaign.

 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Saint Devasahayam Pillai

 

Devasahayam Pillai's statue in one church in Kerala

Book Review

Title: യേശുമുത്ത് [Jesus Pearl]

Author: Gopikrishnan Kottoor

Publisher: Authors Press, New Delhi, 2020

Pages: 330

Spirituality is one of the ways to the discovery of the meaning of life. Evil and death are the most potent factors that render life meaningless. A lot of people have grappled with the problem of evil in diverse ways. The answers given by religions seem to satisfy ordinary people. But there are some who seek deeper answers. Saints belong to that category as also many philosophers, writers, and artists. Saintliness has its roots in insanity as philosopher William James argued very convincingly in his book, Varieties of Religious Experience. Jesus and the Buddha were not normal men in the traditional sense. Most people who were canonised as saints by the Catholic Church and a lot of the ascetics who found bliss in the solitude of the Himalayas are not normal people.

Gopikrishnan Kottoor’s historical drama in Malayalam, Jesus Pearl, tells the story of Neelampulla [Neelakanta Pillai] who converted to Christianity and took the name of Devasahayam Pillai and was eventually martyred. Neelampulla was a prominent figure in the court of Marthanda Varma, an acclaimed king of Travancore [1729-1758]. A skilful warrior, Neelampulla helped Marthanda Varma win the Battle of Colachel and take prisoner the Dutch naval commander, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy.

Marthanda Varma decided to make use of De Lannoy’s soldierly skills instead of putting him to death. De Lannoy did serve the king with loyalty and dedication. Neelampulla came under his religious influence and embraced Christianity to the king’s chagrin.

The low caste people were allowed to change their religion. But conversion of upper caste people was seen as treason. Since the King was fond of Neelampulla, who was a man of many fine virtues, he gave the “traitor” many chances to repent and return to his original gods. When all the efforts failed, the King had no option but order death.

This book dramatizes the story of Neelampulla turned Devasahayam Pillai. The author does a remarkable job with making the drama cinematographic. The scenes change quickly like in a movie and the entire sequence grips the reader even as an exciting movie does.

The author succeeds in giving us deep insights into the character of Devasahayam Pillai who, incidentally, is likely to be canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church in the near future. Pillai was pained by the injustices committed in the name of the caste system. He could not accept the enslavement and maltreatment of the low caste people. The drama shows how the low caste people did not have any rights at all. They did not even have the worth of animals such as cows. Their children were just snatched away for human sacrifices to please the gods of the upper caste people.


In one scene, Ramayan the Prime Minister tells Neelampulla: “Children! Aren’t they just little devils born into the low race? They are children only in appearance. Wretched incarnations, that’s what they are. Filthy creatures. What use are they even if they continue to live?”

While the Brahmins receive free food and a lot of occasional gifts from the palace and elsewhere, the poor low caste people are taxed for everything. The irony is that the Brahmins did no job at all except recite some shlokas. The poor people did all the work and paid all the taxes. The women of these poor people had to bare their breasts for the ogling pleasure of the Brahmins. Such were the rules. Kottoor shoots a few arrows that pierce the very foundation of the Hindu caste system as it was practised in Kerala until the beginning of the 20th century.

Devasahayam Pillai is unable to bear those injustices and the concomitant cruelty and is driven by an insane longing for a different order of reality. The religion of love that Jesus taught naturally appeals to him. His heart goes out to meet the poor and the oppressed. He embraces the children of the downtrodden. He wants to bring the kingdom of God to them. They are not devil’s offspring as the Prime Minister claimed.

There is no wonder that Devasahayam Pillai is waiting to be canonised by the Catholic Church because he epitomises saintliness as visualised by the Church: suffering for and with Jesus. Pillai sees himself as a co-sufferer of Jesus in the drama. He is partaking in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus through his suffering. The last part of the novel, nearly 100 pages, is a gruesome spectacle of the agony endured by Pillai who was chained and dragged from place to place and subjected to different kinds of torture.

The book hurls many questions at the reader. What is religion? Is it just a set of rules and rubrics that gives unlimited power to a small group of people who exploit the vast majority in ingenious ways? Or is it something that should touch your heart and move you to compassion for fellow beings? How valid are some of the rules and rituals of our religions?

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you (God),” said one of the saints of the Catholic Church, Augustine of Hippo. Devasahayam Pillai emerges as one of those seekers whose heart could not have found rest anywhere else.

The book is particularly relevant in today’s India which is grappling with a renewed religious zeal. One limitation is that it is available only in Malayalam.

The author has done much research before writing this book. That has helped him to bring alive the history of the period and the place. But one drawback is that the book feels like a hagiography in some places. Also the sentimentalism that suffuses the last 100-odd pages detracts from the aesthetic merit of a book which is otherwise a superb work.

 

PS. I started writing this review in Malayalam but soon realised that it would take me an entire day to complete that. I hope this review reaches a lot of potential readers.

Friday, October 16, 2020

My own hero?

 


Every adolescent sees himself as the centre of the universe. He is a superstar unto himself. He looks into the mirror for long periods many times a day and ensures that he looks like prince charming. The hairstyle is perfect (though it may look bizarre to the adults). The skin complexion is fair and lovely. There are no dark shades below the eyes. No pimples on the cheeks. He thinks that the whole world is watching him all the time, in admiration. Every adolescent is a narcissist of sorts though the degrees will vary from individual to individual.

People normally grow out of this narcissism as they grow up into the realities of adulthood. Some people remain adolescents at heart for various reasons. Their own feelings of insecurity or inadequacy may be the cause. May be an inflated sense of self-worth. Parents might have contributed it through excessive attention and admiration. Or excessive criticism and demands. At the bottom of it all, probably, lies only one factor: a fragile self-esteem.

I struggled with the narcissism of my own protracted adolescence for quite a while. Looking back I know how much of a laughingstock I was in those days by pretending to be far greater than I ever was and could be. I was my own hero without realising that I was nothing more than a clown in motley for other people who took a lot of interest in me just for the fun of it. [In case you’re interested in all that stuff, welcome to my memoir: Autumn Shadows. For the print version, click here.]

Eventually the truth hits you in the face. [There are exceptions, of course, who never learn the vital truths. Such people reach eminent positions climbing on the rungs of their narcissistic self-confidence and wreak havoc on others.] When it did, I hit the other extreme. I withdrew from the world altogether into my own carapace which shielded my fragile self. To this day I haven’t dared to step out of that carapace and I don’t think I ever will. I don’t feel the need to be in touch with the world anymore.

Am I still my own hero? That’s the question raised by the latest theme of Indispire: Do you consider yourself to be the heroine or hero of your life's story and try to script a superhit? #HeroineHero No is the definite answer. On the contrary, I am acutely aware of the irresistible clown within me. The redeeming factor is that I have learnt to love that clown. My memoir is the story of that clown.

 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Tanishq and the Patriots


Patriots are a queer lot. You don’t know what all things can make them pick up the gun. Only one thing is certain apparently: the gun for anything. When the neighbouring country behaves like a hoard of bandicoots digging into our national borders, we will naturally take up the gun. But nowadays we choose to redraw certain lines on the map and then proclaim that not an inch of land has been lost. On the other hand, when a jewellery company brings out an ad promoting harmony between the majority and the minority populations, our patriots take up the gun. And shoot down the ad.

Those who promote communal harmony are traitors in India today. The sacred duty of the genuine Indian patriot is to hate certain communities, rape their women, plunder their land, deny them education and other fundamental rights and basic requirements.

Tanishq withdrew the ad that sought to promote communal harmony. The patriot’s gun won. Aapka Bharat Mahan.

In the novel Black Hole which I’m writing there is a scene. Let me quote a relevant part below. It is from the trial of the murder of Graham Stuart Staines and his little sons.

The Staines couple worked among the poor tribal people neglected by their government, particularly those inflicted with leprosy. They brought dignity to human lives.

“They corrupted the tribal culture,” explained Mahendra Hembram, one of the killers.

“How did they corrupt the tribal culture?” asked the prosecutor.

“They made the people eat beef. They made the women wear bras. They stuffed sanitary pads between the women’s legs.”

Father Joseph remembered his grandfather telling him when he was a young man how grandfather’s mother and other women of those days had to go around bare-breasted for the sake of culture.

“Culture is a big comedy,” laughed grandfather after spitting out the betel juice that frothed in his mouth like the remnant of a rebellion which boiled in his blood once upon a time. “A comedy with which the upper classes entertain themselves at the cost of the others.”

The comedy of culture has been playing itself out from time immemorial. From the time of the first gods. From the time of the first priest. From the time of the first man who called himself the king. Then the priest and the king colluded to swindle the vast majority. The third estate was born. The fourth caste was born. The casteless untouchables were born. Centuries later, the new king and his religion continue to do the same thing: swindle the third estate and the fourth caste and the casteless. A gigantic comedy called patriotism. Or nationalism.

Varavara Rao or Vernon Gonsalves or Stan Swamy are all traitors of the nation in front of such patriots. What is their crime? Let the prosecutor ask. And the patriot will answer, “They brought food and medicine and education to the tribal people whose land we were going to grab for the corporates.” And the court will choose to be patriotic. The court is the Supreme Comedy.

Ashwatthama continues to laugh. His laughter started millennia ago in a midnight in the Pandava camp after the Kurukshetra war. The war never ended. The comedy of human existence doesn’t end. Ashwatthama can go on laughing.

Our patriots are descendants of Ashwatthama, it looks like. They make me laugh and cry at once.

 

A related post from July: Ashwatthama is still alive

 

 


Monday, October 12, 2020

Stan Swamy and some questions

 


A lot of people who question the government are arrested nowadays on serious charges that amount to treason or nearly that. The latest is the arrest of Stan Swamy who is a Catholic priest and social activist. Apparently his crime is that he is a Maoist who supported the Dalits in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case.

That is only the apparent reason, a reason manufactured by the government. What are the real reasons?

The first reason is that he is a Christian missionary. After Muslims, Christians are the biggest enemies of the Hindu Rashtra that Mr Modi & Co are trying to create in India. A lot of comments made in various social media by the IT cell of the ruling BJP are about conversions made by Christian missionaries in India including Stan Swamy. So let me take up this issue of religious conversion first.

What is wrong if anybody wants to convert from one religion into another? Why can’t I choose my religion? If I am not happy with the religion into which I was born without my choice, can’t I change it? Who can tell me not to? Should the majority decide what religion I should follow? Should the state do that?

Another popular argument from the right wing in India is that the poor people leave their religion just for some material benefits given by the missionaries. Let us accept that it is true for the sake of argument. If any person is willing to give up his original religion just for a “bag of rice”, how pathetic is the condition of that person? Moreover, it just shows that his original religion didn’t have as much value for him as a bag of rice! What is the use of such a religion? I pity if such a religion, which doesn’t even have the worth of a bag of rice, has to become the basis of a nation of 1.38 billion people including me. Just imagine a religion that doesn’t even have the value of a bag of rice!

And the plain truth is that poor people are not so much bothered about their gods as their basic needs like food and security. And dignity. If a particular religion provides them these vital things they may choose to follow that religion. Why can’t they? Why shouldn’t they? I have never heard any right-wing fighter in India giving a satisfactory answer to that question.

National pride and such abstract ideals make no sense to the starving person. Gods don’t make sense to the girl who gets raped in the name of those gods who created a caste system and gave too many rights to the upper caste people including the right to rape the low caste girls and children before killing them brutally.

India is a country in which the religion of the majority seems to take the side of rapists and killers. Just see the support – popular as well as judicial – received by rapists and murderers in many North Indian states in the past few years. If the poor people get fed up of this system and decide to leave that religion of blatant exploitation and injustice and violence and brutality, who can blame them?

I don’t know whether Stan Swamy was converting the Dalits into his religion. There is no evidence for that anyway. But evidence doesn’t matter in Modi’s India. Evidence is manufactured. Truths are fabricated. History is rewritten. Goodness is vilified and monsters are glorified. Statistics are generated in prehistoric labs that boast of the glory of some civilisation that supposedly existed millennia ago somewhere in some buried archives.

In this new Rashtra, you can commit crimes with impunity if you are an upper caste person and has enough influence over the powerful people. You can rape, kill, plunder, lynch, do whatever you want, and get away. But you can’t change your religion!

Why?

That’s the most fundamental question here now.

Religion in right-wing India serves a lot more functions than spiritual. Spirituality is not anyone’s concern really. Just a casual look at the lifestyle of our religious leaders like sadhus, yogis, godmen and the female counterparts of all these will be enough to convince anyone how disconnected spirituality is from their religion.  Their religion is not about spirituality, in short. What is it about then?

It is about control over people. Religion has been used as a political tool for centuries. India is doing precisely that now. It is a tool, the most potent one, to keep certain people in the margins and dumping lots. It’s not only Muslims and Christians who are to be kept down in the garbage bins of the nation. Even the low caste Hindus belong there. In other words, the whole effort is to make India a nation that belongs to some chosen people.

India is being sold to some chosen people by the present regime. Everything is being privatised. We know who are benefitting from these exercises. It is these beneficiaries who want people like Stan Swamy behind the bars because such people question the whole injustice of the system.

The ultimate question raised by the arrest of Stan Swamy and others like him is whose India is it?

PS. Last post which has a vital connection with this issue: A Disillusioned Hindu

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Disillusioned Hindu

 


Book Review

Title: I could not be Hindu: The story of a Dalit in the RSS

Author: Bhanwar Meghwanshi

Translator from Hindi: Nivedita Menon

Publisher: Navayana, Delhi, 2020

Pages: 236 [hardbound]

“Was it for this Hindu Rashtra I was working so hard, so ready to kill and be killed?” Bhanwar Meghwanshi asks in this autobiographical book of his. The book is about the author’s bitter disillusionment with the religion he was born into as well as the most powerful organisation of that religion, the RSS.

Meghwanshi was born into a caste considered untouchable by his religion. But he loved his religion which taught him as a little boy that Muslims and Christians were enemies of both the nation and the nation’s religion. He joined the RSS as a little boy and at the age of 13, in 1987, he was on a mission to redeem the Ayodhya temple from its Muslim clutches. He joined the militant group that went from his village in Rajasthan to Ramjanmabhumi in Ayodhya and shouted passionate slogans in the train. “Raised fists, inflamed faces, roars of Jai jai Shri Ram, vande mataram, jaykaare Bajrangi, har har Mahadev… We swear upon Ram, we will build the temple there.” He wanted to kill the Muslims who were present in his train compartment.

The RSS had built up all that passion and hatred in the mind of that little boy who grew up imbibing lessons in hatred that the fanatic organisation taught in regular meetings. Meghwanshi became one of the prominent members of the RSS in his village. But the organisation would never make him a leader officially. Because of his caste.

The most painful disillusionment struck Meghwanshi when the food he had prepared very lovingly in his house for the RSS members one day was taken away as parcels instead of being eaten in his house as was planned originally. All that food was found a little later thrown on the wayside. The RSS men wouldn’t eat food prepared in the house of a low caste member. “For the first time in my life that day,” says the author, “I stepped aside from my Hindu identity and started seeing the world like a person from a lower caste.” He saw clearly the mendacity and hypocrisy of the world’s largest religious organisation, the RSS.

He began to hate the RSS. He hated Hinduism which discriminated against its own people in the name of caste. Eventually the hatred mellowed into a sort of enlightenment especially because of the new lessons he learnt from Ambedkar, Phule, and other Dalit thinkers and reformers.

Meghwanshi understood that the RSS is an organisation of “Brahmins and Banias” who merely make use of the low caste people for pursuing their own selfish objectives. The RSS strategy is very simple, according to Meghwanshi. The organisation rouses the base passions of the low caste people and make them fight the Muslims and the Christians.

The upper caste people will let their “pet dogs and cats eat with them, sleep on the same beds as they, travel in their air-conditioned cars with them,” but “will not permit even the shadow of a Dalit to fall on them.” Meghwanshi cites a lot Dalit experiences of shame at the hands of the RSS “Brahmins and Banias”.  “What kind of religion is this,” he asks, “in which … unproductive people who merely chant from almanacs and old tomes, who sit in their shops and cheat their customers and lie and lie” are considered superior to people who do all the work? “A religion based on lies and deception, which exploits women, the poor, Dalits, Adivasis.” That is what Hinduism is for Meghwanshi.

The RSS will never eradicate the caste system, says Meghwanshi. It will put the whole blame for all the problems of the Hindus on Muslims and Christians. Then make the Dalits attack these “enemies”. It will also keep the Dalits under a magic spell by offering some high position or the other to one or two of them. It will never give a high position within the organisation to any Dalit but it will make them MLAs or MPs or even the President of the country.

The Sangh has many strategies to hoodwink people. One of them is to appropriate antithetical thinkers like Ambedkar and then corrupt their teachings. The RSS meetings misquote Ambedkar and present him as “anti-Muslim and a supporter of the Hindu Rashtra”. The most fundamental strategy is to ensure that “Muslims, Christians, Dalits and Adivasis don’t come together.” Any organisation that brings these people together or works for their uplift is “officially hounded, investigated, and their funds restricted by manipulating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act [FCRA].”

This book is a very serious indictment of the RSS which controls the country today for all practical purposes. It is written by a man who loved the organisation for many years and was a loyal member. He knows what he is writing about. He has faced many threats from the RSS for his later writings and activities. This book deserves to be read by anyone who wants to see the true colours of the RSS.

 

PS. This blog is participating in the #MyFriendAlexa campaign of the Blogchatter.

 

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Ghost of a Banyan Tree

 

Image from here

Fiction

Jaichander Varma could not sleep. It was past midnight and the world outside Jaichander Varma’s room was fairly quiet because he lived sufficiently far away from the city. Though that entailed a tedious journey to his work and back, Mr Varma was happy with his residence because it afforded him the luxury of peaceful and pure air. The city is good, no doubt. Especially after Mr Modi became the Prime Minister, the city was the best place with so much vikas.

‘Where’s vikas?’ Someone asked Mr Varma once. Mr Varma was offended. ‘You’re a bloody antinational mussalman who should be living in Pakistan ya kabristan,’ Mr Varma told him bluntly.

Mr Varma was a proud Indian which means he was a Hindu Brahmin. He believed that all others – that is, non-Brahmins – should go to their respective countries of belonging. All Muslims should go to Pakistan and Christians to Rome (or is it Italy? Whatever. Get out of Bharat Mata, that’s all.) The lower caste Hindus could stay in India, of course. The lowest caste, well, Mr Varma didn’t want them really but he was willing to keep them back. The untouchables and all don’t have any right to live, according to Mr Varma’s ancient wisdom which he is very proud of as a loyal nationalist.

Sleep eluded him tonight for some mysterious reason. He turned this way and that, tried to curl up in bed and then straightened up… No, nothing worked. His wife was snoring away. His children were studying abroad, the boy in Canada and the girl in America. Mr Varma – he was very proud of that surname because it proclaimed his caste loud and clear – was affluent enough to own a villa with a huge garden. He was a manager of a nationalised bank which gave loans to rich people who left the country with it and lived happily in some western country.

He got up, drank some water from the PET bottle kept beside the bed, and then walked out without making any noise. He opened the main door and stared into the opacity outside. A few electric lamps shone feebly outside some of the neighbouring houses. Mr Varma walked to the banyan tree that stood at the edge of his garden and sat down leaning against the enormous trunk of the tree.

A few yards away, outside his boundary wall, stood a half-built house. The construction was abandoned halfway because the owner lost his job unexpectedly. He was working with Ganatantra TV and when he was promoted with a transfer to Dubai he started the construction of this big house. Then he lost his job all of a sudden. In fact, he had to run for his life from that satanic country in which everyone is a terrorist. He did his job honestly and called a spade a spade – that is, called a Muslim a terrorist. Isn’t that what a Muslim is? And they wanted to kill him just for that. These Muslims! ‘If I had the power,’ thought Mr Varma, ‘I’d have exterminated the whole race.’

‘Hello Varma ji,’ someone called him out from the banyan tree.

‘Who is it? Varma ji was a bit scared though he didn’t believe in ghosts and so on.

A misty shape materialised beside him as if from nowhere. ‘I’m Abraham,’ the shape said. ‘What are you doing here at this time of the night which belongs to ghosts like me?’

‘Ghost!’ Varma ji mumbled. He was scared. ‘Are you a … ghost?’

‘Hmm.’

‘Abraham is your name?’

‘Hmm.’

‘Christian?’

Abraham laughed like ghosts do in certain Indian language movies. ‘Arey yaar, do ghosts have religion? Aren’t they citizens of the cosmos?’

Why can’t these bloody Christian ghosts go to Italy at least, if not to a Christian hell? Varma ji wondered to himself. He had no guts to ask that to a ghost anyway.

Just then a creature wrapped in a sheet was seen walking towards a house on the other side of the wall.

‘See that?’ Abraham said. ‘That’s one of your godmen around here going to screw the lady of that house. She gave sleeping pills to her husband after dinner instead of his usual tablets. Were you also on the way to some lady, Varma ji?’

‘No, no, no,’ Varma ji protested vehemently.

The ghost laughed again. ‘If you walk around at this time of the night you’ll see a lot of truths that you wouldn’t like, Varma ji. You should be in your bed at this time with your loving wife.’

‘Are you really a ghost?’ Varma ji couldn’t believe that a ghost could be so benign. And that too, a ghost belonging to Sonia Antonia Maino’s videshi religion.

‘Well, if I tell you the truth you won’t believe me,’ the ghost said.

‘So you’re not a ghost?’ Varma ji asked. Is this the devil himself? Who knows? All Christians are children of the devil. They eat mleccha food, fuck their neighbours’ wives, and drink alcohol.

‘If you look carefully you might see me inside you,’ the ghost said. And then he disappeared.

Varma ji’s terror intensified. He could feel his heart becoming heavier as if something had entered into it. That something had the shape of the ghost, he could see faintly.

 

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