Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What you suffer is your karma

 The following is one of the chapters of my e-book, Coping with Suffering.

 


Your suffering is your choice to a great extent in Hinduism. Your karma determines what comes your way. Karma is the principle that governs the unfolding of events in your life. Your karma depends on the integrity with which you lived your previous lives. It is not a punishment because unlike in the Abrahamic religions there is no punitive God sitting in any heaven meting out retribution to people. Karma is the unfolding of the moral law that drives the whole universe. As Dr S Radhakrishnan put it, “The working of karma is wholly dispassionate, just, neither cruel nor merciful.” It is not about cruelty or mercy. It is the natural consequence of what you do. If you eat salt, you will drink water. Quite as simple as that.

There is no escape from it because it is part of the eternal law of the universe which is applicable to everything and everybody in the universe without any discrimination. The high and the low, the mighty and the weak, the animate and the inanimate, all are subject to the eternal law one way or another.

God is the eternal law. We may even say that the eternal law is god. Brahman (God) is the infinite reality, the all-encompassing existence. Your ultimate deliverance is a merger of your being into that infinity. For that you need to achieve purity by liberating yourself from your ego. Only the pure self can dissolve into the infinite reality.

The infinite reality pervades everything. Nothing exists outside that. But evil is not a part of that pure reality. Evil belongs to the impure, imperfect material reality. Concepts like good and evil, bliss and suffering, are not applicable to the infinite reality which is beyond all such limited and limiting notions.

Evil and suffering are our creations, in short. Our anger, greed, delusion, etc bring much suffering to ourselves as well as others. Other people, beasts, reptiles and so on can cause suffering to us. There is also a kind of suffering caused by forces beyond us like natural disasters.

There is no material life without some evil and suffering. That is precisely why our ultimate goal is to liberate ourselves from this existence and merge into the infinite reality which is beyond all sensations and feelings, beyond any possibility of suffering.

Krishna of the Bhagavat Gita advises us to live without attachment to anything here on earth if we wish to escape the cycles of birth, death and rebirth, the cycles generated by our karma. Attachment is a desire for things you don’t have and a clinging to things you do have. This attachment is the primary stumbling block to achieving moksha, liberation.  This attachment brings unnecessary suffering to human beings.

You have to rise above the joys and sorrows brought by this attachment. As Krishna tells Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, “You must learn to endure fleeting things – they come and go! When these cannot torment a man, when suffering and joy are equal for him and he has courage, he is fit for immortality.”

It is the nonchalance of the ascetic that Krishna is asking Arjuna to acquire. It is not the listlessness of the weary person. It is not the apathy of the unconcerned. It is an enlightened state of mind which shows you the illusory nature of the things to which you feel unwarranted attachment. It reveals to you how like a moth you are flying into a flame that will scorch your wings when you have the option to fly higher into the pure and blissful light of divinity.

How do you do that? How do you reach that higher realms and attain eternal deliverance?

Follow your dharma, Krishna would say. “Be intent on action, not on the fruit of the action; avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction! Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachments. Be impartial to failure and success.”

Do your duty with full integrity. That is the ultimate mantra for deliverance. Hinduism offers at least four distinct paths for attaining that level of integrity. Devotion [bhakti] is one such path which is a purely spiritual path involving prayer and meditation. You can pursue the path of ethical action [karma] if you prefer that. Krishna’s Arjuna obviously was being advised to do that.

There is the path of knowledge for the intellectually oriented souls. Real knowledge reveals the impermanence and ineffectuality of earthly things and thus frees the seeker from the bondage of ignorance. Ignorance is what ties you down to the illusory realities here on earth.

For the mystically oriented ones, there is the path of asceticism. Abandon the world altogether though you are still in it. There are thousands of ascetics living in the ethereal peaks and caves of the Himalayas seeking deliverance through renunciation. This is an extreme path and it entails much suffering. You endure hunger and cold and whatever comes your way in the hostile environment of the elevated hills. You have to live as if you don’t have a body. But you do have a body which endures the onslaught of what normal people perceive as reality: hunger and thirst, climate and wild animals, breathlessness and insomnia.

Suffering has a vital role in Hinduism, in other words. This world is not your real place. You belong elsewhere. Here you are trapped in the midst of illusions. The ordinary souls go through life taking those illusions as realities. The ascetics transcend the illusions by embracing suffering in various ways. To have a physical body and yet to live as if there isn’t one is certainly not an easy task. But that is just what the ascetic does.

Hinduism is not a monolithic religion like Christianity or Judaism. There are diverse schools with significantly different teachings. We have looked at some elements which are fairly common to those teachings. One thing is obvious: suffering has its due place in Hinduism too. It descends on you one way or the other. Some even choose it voluntarily. There is no escape anyway.

Though Hinduism shares something of Christianity’s aversion to the body, the two religions have little else in common. There is no judgemental God in Hinduism peering at whatever the people are doing and keeping accounts so that the final judgement day will be some gigantic firework show. The ultimate reality of Hinduism, Brahman, is not going to issue any verdict. You are your own master in a way. You decide your destiny with your own actions. That is karma. You reap the results of what you do.

Hinduism offers more cause for optimism than Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism. In the words of Dr S Radhakrishnan, “If we miss the right path, we are not doomed to an eternity of suffering. There are other existences by which we can grow into the knowledge of the Infinite Spirit with the complete assurance that we will ultimately arrive there.”

Hinduism leaves us with enough optimism and reasons to smile. 


Coping with Suffering is available at Amazon.

 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Goswami kinda Nationalism

 


83-year-old Stan Swamy who can’t even have glass of water without somebody’s help is thrown in jail for terrorist activities. A young stand-up comedian, Munawar Faruqui, is in jail for a joke that didn’t crack but might have cracked. Siddique Kappan, a journalist who went from Kerala to report a gang rape in Yogiland, is in jail for suspected terrorist links.

Laughter is a crime in Modi’s India. Helping the poor and the marginalised is a crime. Even questioning the government’s crimes can land you in jail. Nitish Kumar’s Bihar has enacted a law for gagging people’s mouths. And Nitish Kumar is the “Bhishma Pitamah of corruption” according to Tejashwi Yadav. Now, why is Mr Yadav not arrested yet for making that statement?

Well, this is Modi’s India. You can never say who will go behind the bars for what. Somebody like Arnab Goswami can say anything and do anything – even induce suicides – but won’t be caught by the law. He is above the law like a lot many other hardcore criminals in the country. Moreover, many of these criminals are ruling the country.

A famous Malayalam poet, Akkitham who died recently, wrote many years ago the famous lines: “Light is sorrow, son / Darkness is solace.” The young son who takes the morning walk with his father in spite of the latter’s warning against it is condemned to see the debris of the night’s venality lying on the wayside. Our leaders go on promising utopia in talk shows and public performances and channel discussions. Politics is entertainment without the consolations of consoling moral lessons like in other entertainments. Instead of morals we get the wayside debris and its nationalism.

Nationalist Arnab Goswami is one of Modi’s lapdogs in what has come to be known as Godi Media. The Mumbai police have released some of his WhatsApp chats which show him clearly as a deep pit of depravity. He has been asserting his nationalism with a vociferousness that disturbed sanity. Most nationalists in Modi’s India smack of insanity and Goswami is a perverted version of that insanity.

The leaked WhatsApp chats prove his nationalism to be nothing more than sham. Just a show. He can celebrate the deaths of our soldiers because those deaths bring him certain personal benefits. His nationalism is only that: personal aggrandisement. I have always believed with Dr Johnson that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The kind of nationalism that is peddled in India these days will make even scoundrels blush with shame.

Ambrose Bierce differed with Dr Johnson and said that patriotism is the first (not the last) resort of the scoundrel. His definition of patriotism is: “Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name.” Arnab Goswami’s torch has been burning for too long now. It’s time to give it some rest and a prison cell would be quite the ideal place for one who has been deciding for too long what the nation wants to know.

 


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 360: #ContemporaryNationalism

Both the images above are fish that swam into my net from the vast ocean of Internet. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Malevolent India

 



Book Review

Title: Malevolent Republic

Author: K. S. Komireddi

Publisher: Context, Chennai, 2020

Pages: xxxiii + 228       Price: Rs399

‘A Short History of the New India’ is the subtitle of this relatively short book. In ten tersely titled chapters [e.g., ‘Erosion,’ ‘Surrender,’ ‘Decadence’], the book presents just five prime ministers of India: Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, and Narendra Modi. The history of a country is largely a creation of its prime leader. While the first four PMs mentioned above receive one chapter each, the entire second part of the book [6 chapters] is dedicated to Modi and the pathetic if not pathological history he has been forging.

With Indira Gandhi started the erosion of the high principles followed by the former leaders. Indira knew the game of politics and played it shrewdly. The emergency and Bhindranwale were her serious mistakes. Her son Sanjay was another. Komireddi is of the opinion that Indira was glorified rather hyperbolically by history.

Her Congress successors weren’t much better either. Rajiv Gandhi was not the “redeemer prime minister” as he is projected in liberal lore. He was a suave young man who loved to wear designer denims, Gucci shoes, and a Cartier wristwatch. He would have liked to live a private and affluent life. But destiny hurled him into politics. He was quite the Mr Clean as he came to be acclaimed. Yet he lacked strength of character. He buckled before religious populism. His grandfather’s distinguished secularism was strangled by him mercilessly.

Narasimha Rao was a polymath and a polyglot. He had a soft corner for the right wing in India and let L K Advani’s nationalist vendetta march “from Somnath, where a majestic Hindu temple had repeatedly been ransacked by Muslim invaders, to the ancient town of Ayodhya, where the founder of the Mughal empire had erected a mosque by bringing down a Hindu temple.” Rao had got an assurance from Advani that the Babri Masjid would not be demolished. But Advani “was the most poisonous figure in Indian politics at this time.” [All quotes are from the book under review.]

Advani’s blatant betrayal haunted Rao for the rest of his life, says the book. Rao knew that people like Advani [as are now Modi and his fans] “who search for personal consolation in bloody retributions against the past … do not bring history to a terminus: they endow it with an insoluble fury.”

Rao revolutionised the country’s economy by liberalising it and putting an end to the License Raj. He put India on a progressive path at least where the economy was concerned. Yet he had a sad end. The Congress refused to give his mortal remains an honourable place in Delhi’s historic ghat. “His body was flown back to Hyderabad, where it lay in state in an empty hall. His funeral was poorly guarded… (S)tray dogs tore at the remains of his partially cremated body.”

Manmohan Singh continued the economic liberalisation set in motion by Rao. But the economic surge of the country did not bring any remarkable ‘trickle-down’ effect to the poor and the marginalised. “16.000 farmers killed themselves every year for all but two years that Singh was in office.” Lands belonging to the Dalits and tribals were taken over by the government and handed to the corporate sector in the name of development. The poor people who lost their lands and livelihoods protested only to be fired upon by the police. They had no choice but become Maoists. Manmohan Singh declared Maoism the greatest internal threat to India without ever bothering to understand his own role in the creation of Maoists.

Manmohan Singh lacked vertebrae, according to the author of this book. He focused on GDP and left politics to Sonia Gandhi and her men. A lot of scandals broke out during Singh’s period. Those who profited from Singh’s inefficiency “were Muslim extremists in Pakistan and Hindu supremacists in India.” The corporate honchos who benefited praised him “as wise, thoughtful, visionary, compassionate.” In reality, however, Singh was “totally isolated from (the) people.”

K.S. Komireddi

And then came the people’s hero: Narendra Modi.

Modi has been the most disastrous Prime Minister that India has had, according to this book. His impact on the country’s socio-political fabric had been so pernicious that it will take many generations to rectify the “pan-national cancer”. The titles of the six chapters dedicated to Modi are revealing themselves: Cult, Chaos, Terror, Vanity, Seizure, and Disunion.

Modi’s royal march to Lok Kalyan Marg started with a genocide in his home state in 2002 when he was the chief minister. He knows how to play the sectarian card and has been playing it dexterously for two decades now. He knows how to make it look something else, however: development, for example.

“In the minds of many Indians, Gujarat came to be imagined as a subcontinental Shangri La,” says the author. The truth was something else altogether. “People in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala enjoyed a superior standard of life from birth to death than their Gujarati counterparts. If you were a non-Hindu, if you happened to be a Muslim, Gujarat was a pit of horror and humiliation.” Modi’s Gujarat was somewhat like Putin’s Russia, says Komireddi. It was “a place where circumstances fell into the habit of becoming mysterious when it came to the departure of the leader’s enemies.” Later the whole of India became such a place when Modi became the Prime Minister.

A month after Modi became PM, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court was removed from office in order to save Amit Shah from a murder case. Six months later, Judge Loya died in “mysterious circumstances” the morning after spending a night at a government guest house. Two of his friends also dropped dead soon: one from the top of a building, another on a train. Loya’s successor, M B Gosavi, dropped the charges against Shah within three weeks of being given the charge of the case.

Countless people have been victimised by Modi’s thuggery. If Ehsan Jafri, an MP, could be dragged out of his home and gashed and burned alive in spite of repeated attempts to contact Modi during the Gujarat riots, what makes anyone think he or she will remain unharmed? The author asks citing many more examples. “If Aamir Khan … can be unpersoned; if Gauri Lankesh … can be shot dead; if Ramachandra Guha … can be stopped from lecturing; if Naseeruddin Shah … can be branded a traitor; if Manmohan Singh … can be labelled an agent of Pakistan; … if a young woman can be stalked by the police machinery of the state because Modi has displayed an interest in her – what makes the rest of us think we will remain untouched and unharmed?”

Modi is a malevolent narcissistic dictator who pretends to be a benevolent nationalist with a patriarchal beard whose length is the only thing that keeps improving under his watch and ward. All the endless foreign tours (putting an end to them was perhaps the only good thing that happened because of Covid-19) did no good to anyone. Foreign institutional investors withdrew their money from India, all our neighbours began to despise us, China has taken possession of Indian territories cocking a snook at Modi’s chest-thumping, time-tested friends like Nepal and Bhutan are alienated…

All significant institutions have been vitiated by Modi. The armed forces have been politicised – something which no former PM ever did. The Reserve Bank has lost its autonomy perilously. Universities have been enslaved to mendacity. The Election Commission has been enervated beyond recognition. Worst of all, the Supreme Court has become a handmaid of the government. The media has become a mere lapdog. “Indira Gandhi shackled the press,” says the author. “Modi co-opted it.”

The author illustrates all his claims with plenty of examples. That is one of the best things about this book. It is indeed a history to that extent. Otherwise, it is an incisive critique of the Prime Ministers mentioned, especially Modi. Towards the end of the book, the author shows why Kashmir will never again feel a part of India. Of course, Modi is likely to annihilate the Kashmiri Muslims and create a Hindu Kashmir. He might try similar things in other parts too. The South is already voicing dissent and making secessionist grunts.

Modi has drawn out the very worst in many Indians,” Komireddi says in one of the concluding pages of his first book. The biggest disservice contributed by Modi is that he has distorted India and it will take a long, very long, period after him to redeem the goodness within the country.

The book is highly recommended to all Indians who can read elite English. Komireddi’s style is not simple. Sample this sentence, for instance: “Is the capacious imagination of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism who envisioned a socialist ‘New Society’ for all inhabitants of Palestine, disgraced or upheld when Modi – forged in an ideology that lionises the tormentors of Herzl’s people – mouths platitudes about democracy with Netanyahu, an ethno-religious bigot whose anti-democratic politics are awash in the venom of Dr Geyer, the villain of Herzl’s foundational text on Zionism?”

It is worth enduring that convolutedness of style especially if you are a Modi bhakt. The book may open your eyes and thus you can be redeemed. Your redemption is the country’s redemption in the long run. If you are not a Modi bhakt but would like to take a critical look at your country’s prime ministers, that’s a good idea and here is the right book.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The heartlessness of Idealism

 


John Oswald was sent by the British to reform India in 1780s. India reformed him instead. Under the influence of certain Hindu ascetics, Oswald became a vegetarian and also a committed champion of animal rights. This same man, however, had no qualms about killing fellow human beings. In the very same year in which his pamphlet decrying meat eaters for their “callous insensibility” was published, Oswald was devising, as a member of the Jacobin Club in France, effective methods for largescale massacres of human beings. Vegetarianism and sensibility towards animals on the one hand and heartless brutality to humanity on the other. This is what India taught Oswald.

Do you find something similar happening in India nowadays? One of our chief ministers appointed by none other than our Prime Minister himself is a Hindu ascetic by profession and is a pure vegetarian who loves cows more than certain human beings. Before becoming the high priest of his state, he had founded a local army of his own in order to commit such ‘religious’ deeds as rape and murder of people belonging to a particular religion. This yogi was arrested in 2007 for his murderous exhortations to an excited mob and his worldly possessions at that time included a revolver, a rifle and two luxury cars. As soon as this religious ascetic was made the CM of his state he went on a rampage against the Muslims in his state. “Human beings are important,” he declared, “but cows are also important.”

India now has a lot of people like him: with idealism in heart and murder in deeds.

Religious idealism has often been brutally murderous. Who can forget the crusades and jihads of the medieval history? The West seems to have realised the futility of crusades and religion in general. The east is still in the heat of religious idealism with all its murderousness. India seems to be on the way to becoming the leader of such countries in religious heat.

The roots of religion lie in a sort of insanity, according to philosopher William James. Saints are insane people by ordinary standards of human psychology. But most saints don’t harm others. They harm themselves in the names of their gods and religions. There are some, however, whose insanity makes them imagine themselves as the saviours of whole nations and hence they choose to inflict the nations with their insanities. India is in the hands of some such saviours.

The people of India can still choose a better life by deciding to be more practical than idealistic. Practical people have hearts, you know.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Emperor with too many clothes

 Sunday musings

Image from panna.org


In the classical story, the vainglorious emperor is naked though he is made to believe that he is wearing some supernatural fabric. The King in this blog post is blessed with the same vanity though he cannot be accused of the same naivete. His sartorial sense is as sophisticated as his political acumen is shrewd. He has his own brand of jackets with colours that match the occasions.

His words have colours that match the occasions. He can be a teacher or a butcher, a persuasive demagogue or a deferential tea-seller. He longs for appreciation from the very people whom he holds in contempt. He emulates the people whom he seeks to displace from history.

He professes absolute love for his country and its ancient culture and civilisation. But he will get foreign writers to pen his biography. Andy Marino and Lance Price have written voluminous books about his greatness though they knew him little until they were hired to do the job.

Knowledge is not important in his kingdom. Propaganda is. The King makes use of all the available social media to tell his subjects that he has been adjudged the Best King in the world by UNESCO or to photoshop the American President as watching him delivering his monthly exhortations to his subjects.

He has put up selfie booths in significant cities where his subjects can take their photos with a lifelike statue of his with a broad grin on the lips. He has got his own statue installed at Madame Tussauds museum. His court poets compose poems to acclaim him as “God’s precious gift to the country” and “The messiah of the poor” and so on. They put words into the mouth of prophets like Nostradamus: “A boy who swam with crocodiles in the land beneath the Himalayas will grow up to be the greatest king in the whole world…”

Another boy – no relation of the Emperor at all – stood at a distance watching the poet laureate of the country composing his latest poem by bending halfway down beside the King and kissing his posterior…

 

 

Friday, January 15, 2021

The agony of faithlessness

 

A church in a village in Kerala

The best definition of ‘faith’ I’ve come across so far is Ambrose Bierce’s: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel.”

What does the word ‘faith’ mean to me? This is the question raised by fellow blogger, Parwati Singari, at a blogger’s community for this week’s discussion. The word ‘Faith’ is primarily associated with religions and gods. There are other meanings too, of course, like in ‘I have no faith in my government’ or ‘You’ll cope – I have great faith in you.’ I stick to the primary connotation here.

The first thing I did when I saw Parwati’s topic was to take once again The Scale of Doubt Quiz given in the opening pages of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s scintillating work, Doubt: a history. [In case you wish to take the same quiz and see how much of a believer you are, I’ve posted a pic of the page from Hecht’s book in my Facebook timeline.] My result: I am an atheist, but I “may have … a pious relationship to the universe.” True. There is an eerie romantic in me whose heart is still capable of leaping up at the sight of a rainbow in the sky. In other words, I’m not utterly without any faith. But religious faith is our topic and I lack that in toto.

Philosopher Walter Kaufman made a very charming observation. The atheism of Buddhism, he said, is born of intense suffering which cannot but shriek, yell, accuse, and argue with God – not about Him – “for there is no other human being who would understand”. Evils in the world and God as the omnipotent creator of that world is more a pain in the brain (no, not in the posterior this time) than an amusing oxymoron.  Yet the heart longs for a God, an entity out there that is the sum and substance of all human longings and aspirations. The Buddha was racked by that longing.

I experience that longing again and again. Each time my brain will mock my heart. And my brain walks away with the trophy invariably. Most genuine atheists are people who experience the agony of this conflict between the heart’s longings and the brain’s certainties. Such atheists are more religious at heart. That is one of the most comical paradoxes of life that I know.

Yes, Dr Parwati. I am a professed atheist. But I talk to God almost every day. I question him, accuse him, raise my fist against him. I also smile at him once in a while – like when something good comes along in life blown by a stray wind. But I don’t believe in him. I know that he doesn’t exist. I wish he did.

That wish – do you want to call it ‘faith’? I don’t anyway. For me, it’s just my human frailty. Faith is my frailty. It could have been my strength if the world had been a little better place.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Brainless nation

 



“The ideas by which a ruling group maintains its power must be suited to the intellectual climate of the given epoch.” Barrows Dunham, 20th century American philosopher who was fired from Temple University for being “un-American” in his thoughts, wrote that in his famous book Man Against Myth (1947). There is a close affinity between the intellectual levels of a people and their rulers. There was a time when religion was the most powerful social entity among people and hence rulers claimed to possess divine rights to rule. Ancient kings worked in collusion with priests. Both together exploited the ordinary people mercilessly. Since the people also believed in the same gods that the kings and the priests did, the system worked.

But that changed when people realised that the gods weren’t exactly what they seemed to be. The rulers who once derived their power from the gods were now content to derive it from monkeys, as Dunham put it. Charles Darwin usurped the power of the gods and gave it to science. Governments changed. Revolutions took place in some countries. In others, the power shifted more smoothly to the people. And in yet others, gods continued to rule and the people there remained behind veils of ignorance.

India was taken over from sadhus and fakirs by Nehru who didn’t sell his soul to the millions of gods in the country. Nehru put his trust in educational institutions and dams and highways. He put the nation on a scientific path. He refused to succumb to the demands for a theistic nation like what Jinnah had created in the neighbourhood. Consequently India became a modern nation, a progressive one, one whose people were encouraged to use their brains freely.

More than half a century after Nehru, India got a leader who took the nation back by millennia. We have been taken back to prehistoric gods and their fairy-tale oases. We are taught to focus on temples and cows. Yogis and sadhvis dictate terms to us now. And who are ‘us’? The rights of the citizens are taken away and handed over to a particular community. Some are given to an animal! Women are once again being treated like the commodities in Manusmriti.

India has regressed as a nation by a few millennia. But this can’t happen without the support of the people. That’s what Dunham says. Why do majority of Indians support the present regression led by one man and a few of his henchmen? Is it because the majority lack brains? We would have to accept that if we analyse the contemporary reality in the country.

It’s a matter of consolation, however, that the ruling party of today never got more than one-third of votes in both the elections which catapulted the party to “brute” power. Two-thirds of the people voted against the party. But this ‘majority’ was not united. Hence the ‘minority’ won. And that ‘minority’ claimed to be the majority! One of the many paradoxes of democracy.

Nevertheless the silence of the two-thirds that didn’t vote for the BJP in 2014 as well as 2019 is mystifying. Have they lost their brains in the regressive motion of their compatriots? That’s some food for thought.

PS. There was a time when I had many blogger friends who used to discuss issues freely and intellectually at blogging sites. Today most of them avoid me and, worse, write stuff that smacks of prehistoric fatuity if not savagery. Rather pathetic condition for a nation.

 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Destiny’s gifts

Bogey-Beast


There is a fairy tale about a poor, little, old woman who is very cheerful by nature. She runs errands for her neighbours and lives by what they give her in return for her services or in plain charity. During one of her carefree sojourns, she sees a pot lying in a ditch. Though she doesn’t have anything worthwhile to keep in such a pot, she decides to retrieve it from the ditch. When she gets to it, she is amazed to see gold coins overflowing from the pot.

She carries the heavy pot full of gold coins thinking that she has become awfully rich until she feels tired and incapable of going on. She puts the pot down for a while. When she picks it up again, alas, it’s no more a pot of gold coins but just a mass of silver. Her happiness does not dwindle. Silver is better, she mutters to herself, because it’s less trouble. Thieves won’t be attracted by silver as much as by gold.

But the next time she puts the mass of silver down out of fatigue, it metamorphoses into a lump of iron. She smiles to herself. Such a load of iron can create a lot of things. But soon the iron changes into a plain stone. The woman’s happiness doesn’t diminish a bit. “I needed something like this to hold my old gate in its place,” she tells herself.

When she reaches the crumbling gate of her ramshackle cottage, however, the stone takes life and becomes a monstrous creature with four lanky legs and a long tail. It walks away squealing and whinnying like a heartlessly naughty boy.

“Well,” says the old woman to herself, “I’m in luck! Fancy seeing the Bogey-Beast all to myself. It has left me with a great sense of freedom too. I feel uplifted. That’s just great.”

I have often felt like this old woman except that I was never as cheerful as she. I watched my treasure metamorphosing into many things – lower in degree each time – as I grew older and older. I cursed myself, fell into depression many times, and became an utter cynic [who still has a heart at least for kittens]. Time passed. Life kept playing its usual games with me too just as it does with most others. I wonder how many people manage to escape those beastly games of life. People have their own survival strategies. I too survived though with a lot of scars in the soul.

Those scars are in our destiny, I believe. Maybe one should learn to feel uplifted each time a scar imprints itself in our souls. Maybe we need to learn cheerfulness from that little, poor, old woman.

PS. A person whom I like much has been in depression for quite some time now. He reminded me of this little old woman. Let me take the liberty of dedicating this post to him.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Save your penis

 Fiction

“Damodar!” The cry that was an ethereal mix of joy, surprise, and agony staggered me. I looked at the old man who had uttered that cry looking into my eyes. I had just come out from a shopping mall in the city which I was visiting after a very long period though it was the city that nurtured my childhood. I stared at the million wrinkles that crisscrossed his sunken cheeks, at his bald head, into his sad eyes…

“Timur…” I whispered hesitantly.

“Yes,” the man said with relief as well as heightened joy.

It was Amir Timur, my childhood friend. The boy who told me, “Arey yaar, you should celebrate Diwali,” when I told him that my father was against firecrackers which did no good to anyone including the earth’s stratosphere. He took me to the junkyard behind his hut and took out the crackers he had bought on the way and gave me a matchbox. “Come on, this is your Diwali.” He said. “Celebrate it. Darn the stratosphere.”

Timur and I became best friends. I visited his hut and his mother gave me gajar ka halwa and sheer korma. But he never agreed to visit my house in spite of my repeated invitations though my mother would have happily served him vada with sambar or rice murukku. “Palace belonged to the original Timur. I’m a fake Timur.” He said with a smile whose meaning remained beyond my grasp at that time. I was just 13. Not old enough to understand life’s inevitable ironies.

I didn’t understand when Timur remained absent from school for a few days and then reappeared looking sullen and terrified. “Save your penis.” One boy in the class whispered to me. I didn’t understand the meaning of that either though I had heard that injunction mentioned in all sorts of moods by people in different places. It took me quite a while and even more sincere effort which smelt of prurience to understand that a man called Sanjay Gandhi was doing something not quite dignified to men’s penises. It cost me even more time and effort to find out that his religion had done something terrible to Timur’s penis.

Timur stopped attending school soon. He was asked to work in a tea-shop and earn money for family. My contact with Timur was snapped totally.

I was sent to America soon after I completed my graduation. I studied, found a job, married, and settled down in the land of dreams. My country remained a distant reality for me. But I knew what was happening there. It reminded me of Timur occasionally.

I was reminded of Timur when some of my people brought the Babri Masjid down with shouts of Ek dhakka aur do and violence followed in many places soon after. I worried about Timur. But I had no courage to enquire about him. Was it courage that I lacked? Or was it sensitivity? I wonder.

Babri Masjid and Timur did not belong to the same place, of course. But what happens in one place has butterfly effects in other places. Something happens in Godhra railway station and Timur’s people are killed in Ahmedabad and Vadodara and …

Timur’s people. I wonder why I thought of them as such. Timur had no more connection with Gujarat than I did.

I read in the news that appeared off and on in electronic media about men whose foreskins were checked before they were lynched on my country’s streets. I read about citizenship bills. I read about resurgent nationalism. Patriotism began to rise in my veins though hesitantly. I wished to visit the city of my birth.

That’s how I met Timur again. An old man. A skeleton.

He had been arrested by the police after a bomb blast took place in a masjid in our city – did I say ‘our’ city?

“I was in the mosque when the blast took place,” Timur told me. “And unfortunately I was saved.”

He was asked to confess to a crime that he had not committed. He was asked to admit that he was a spy working for the ISI of Pakistan.

“They drove a pin beneath my toenails to make me accept the crime. When I refused, they stripped me and drove the pin into … you know where.”

I had read about that bomb blast too in the electronic media. It was reported that a man belonging to some Hindu right-wing organisation had committed the crime and he confessed to it when he couldn’t bear the weight of his deed on his conscience anymore. I had not taken that report seriously though. I was becoming a nationalist, you see.

“I wanted to become a terrorist,” Timur told me. “To destroy. Annihilate.” He ground his teeth. “But I couldn’t. Aap ki yaad ne mujhe rok diya.”

His words stunned me into silence. What happened to my nationalism?

I searched for my nationalism in the little space between me and the horizon. Cities have no horizon, you know. Instead there are billboards. And right in front of me stood one such billboard with India’s Prime Minister grinning broadly. “Achhe din aane waale hain.” The billboard said.

PS. This story is inspired by a real incident narrated by K.S. Komireddi in his book, Malevolent Republic.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Empty Bullets of Nationalism

 "... The deaths of twenty Indian soldiers [in the Galwan Valley] did nothing for the morale of the very soldiers from whose shoulders Prime Minister Modi and his BJP like to fire the empty bullets of their nationalism."

Shashi Tharoor, The Battle of Belonging



Nationalism is quite an absurd thing in independent nations. When you are free as a nation to forge your destiny any way you want, what job has nationalism to do? Nationalism is an assertion of a nation’s rights and privileges against an enemy. For example, India’s nationalism during the British rule was needed and valuable. Once the coloniser is gone, nationalism should give way to nation-building.

Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, The Battle of Belonging, takes a deep and wide look at the subject. The book is divided into six sections. The first, The Idea of Nationalism, analyses the subject in great detail viewing it from all possible angles. There are varieties of nationalism like religious nationalism, territorial nationalism, radical or revolutionary nationalism, civic nationalism, and ethnic nationalism. The author makes it very clear that his own nationalism is civic while Modi’s is ethnic. He shows us the merits of the former and demerits of the latter. Civic nationalism is nothing but patriotism in a different garb while ethnic nationalism is hatred masquerading as love.

Whatever the variety, nationalism has something clannish about it. Tharoor quotes British philosopher Karl Popper: Nationalism “appeals to our tribal instincts, to passion and to prejudice, and to our nostalgic desire to be relieved from the strain of individual responsibility which it attempts to replace by a collective or group responsibility.” India under Modi is the best example for the worst kind of clannish nationalism with all its hatred of certain communities of people in the name of love for one particular religion and culture.

The second section of the book is titled ‘The Idea of India’ and shows how everybody in the country is in one or another kind of minority. The whole Sanghi argument that India belongs primarily to Hindus raises a very pertinent question: Which Hindu? Tharoor shows that the Hindus in India are not at all a homogeneous community. There is far more in common between a Hindu and a Christian in Kerala than between a Yadav of UP and a Vellalar in Tamil Nadu. It is certain politicians like Modi who thrust an axe between the Hindu and the Muslim and the Christian. The real issue is, argues Tharoor, “whether Indians should let intolerant politicians, convinced of their own righteousness, decide who is qualified to be an authentic Indian.”

One of the many interesting examples cited by the author to show that India was a far better place before Modi took it over is from 1971 when the Indo-Pak war occurred. “The Indian Air Force in the Northern Sector was commanded by a Muslim (Idris Hasan Latif); the Indian Army commander was a Parsi (Sam Manekshaw); the general officer commanding-in-chief of the forces that marched into Bangladesh was a Sikh (Jagjit Singh Aurora), and the general flown in to negotiate the surrender of Pakistani forces in East Bengal was Jewish (J.F.R. Jacob). That was the idea of India…” Can you ever get that India back? The answer is arguably Modi’s most disastrous contribution to the idea of India.

In the third section Tharoor looks at ‘The Hindutva Idea of India’. He lays bare the fangs of RSS heroes like Savarkar and Golwalkar. The very ideology of the RSS is akin to what created Pakistan and Modi has made India a “Hindu Pakistan”.

The fourth and fifth sections analyse the present India that is largely Modi’s creation. “Here is a prime minister,” writes Tharoor, “who has upended practically every civilized convention in Indian politics, unleashing law-enforcement authorities to pursue flimsy charges against an array of Opposition leaders (and locking up a former home and finance minister, P. Chidambaram, for 101 days without trial), promoting ministers whose divisive discourse against Muslims has left them and other minorities fearful, and so thoroughly intimidated the media and its owners that his press coverage is an embarrassment to India’s long tradition of an independent and uncowed media.” Modi has trivialised all the greatness that remained with institutions. He has criminalised opposition and dissent. He has communalised everything from food to clothes to love. He has vitiated the very air that Indians breathe. He has destroyed the very idea of India that great leaders like Gandhi forged with much pain.

“Where do we go from here?” The first chapter of the last section asks. Will the readiness of Muslims and other non-Hindus in India to accept Hindutva in theory be a solution to the present imbroglio created by Modi? No, asserts Tharoor. “Surrender rarely leads to the victor conceding the demands of the vanquished…. Surrendering to this dystopia, far from ending the Hindutva project, will merely whet the appetite for more hatred and polarization.”

This is yet another brilliant work from Dr Tharoor.

PS. My reviews of other books by Tharoor:

Why I am a Hindu: Shashi Tharoor’s Hinduism

The Paradoxical Prime Minister

PPS. The other books in the pic which is from a shelf of my lpersonal library are also reviewed in my blog. Just Google and there you are.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Making sense of what is happening

 


“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out,” said Vaclav Havel. Things don’t turn out well generally in the human world where Murphy’s law is quite universal: What can go wrong will surely do.

Our endeavours to make conquests are often like Uncle Podger’s attempts to fix a picture on the wall. Uncle gets all the required things ready: hammer, ruler, step-ladder, kitchen-chair, and what not. Then he would lift up the picture and drop it and it would come out of the frame. While trying to save the glass, he cuts himself. He goes searching for his coat because his kerchief is in the coat pocket. He has forgotten where he left his coat. All the family members are put on a treasure hunt for his coat. “Doesn’t anybody in the whole house know where my coat is? I never came across such a set in all my life…” Uncle frets and fumes. “Six of you! And you can’t find a coat that I put down not 5 minutes ago! Well of all the…”

Finally he discovers the coat beneath his own bum. He has been sitting on it all the while when the others were searching frantically for it. But Uncle will blame them, of course: “Might just as well ask the cat to find anything as expect you people to find it.”

Now the entire family as well as the servants are all around Uncle in a semi-circle at his service: two of them holding the chair, a third helping Uncle to mount the chair, a fourth to hand a nail, and a fifth to give the hammer. Then Uncle drops the nail. By the time the nail is found the hammer is gone.

Well, it goes on. That’s how life generally is. Whatever can go wrong invariably does go. It does it with the vindictiveness with which history has been haunting India in the past half a dozen years. But Uncle’s family members know that this is how it is. The whole turmoil makes sense to them because they know Uncle Podger.

A lot of things in our lives wouldn’t make sense if we didn’t ‘know’ them. And religion, literature, music, and many other things help us to ‘know’ them. For example, the cross which is the quintessential symbol of Christianity helps the believers to ‘know’ life as pain and accept the pains as parts of the divine plan for them. Pain becomes acceptable and bearable because of that ‘knowledge’. Pain makes sense when you know that it is God who is giving you this pain because God wants to teach you something.

I’m incapable of accepting a God of that sort. All the neurones in every fibre of my being rebel against such a god who is said to be omnipotent and yet is bent on torturing creatures with pains which his omnipotence could have just wiped off instantly.

I look to literature for consolation. The madness of King Lear and the turmoil of Tess of D’Urbervilles and the confusions of Holden Caulfield help me make sense of the evils I encounter day after day.

But there’s something that I’m incapable of making sense of these days. I find an increasing number of people in my country resorting to crimes in the names of their gods, culture, and religion. Priests are raping devotees. And then killing them brutally. How do I make sense of that? And the chief minister of those criminal-priests is a yogi himself who has committed innumerable crimes which he wrote off using the political power he wields. I can’t make sense of that. I can’t make sense of a lot of things happening in my country these days. That’s why there’s so much pessimism and cynicism in my writings.

People ask me why I sound so bitter when I write about our ruling dispensation.  Now you know why. If you can help me make sense of these realities, please do.

 

   

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Pink for boys

 


Remember the Pink Chaddi campaign that rocked India in 2009? Hundreds of pink panties were couriered to Pramod Muthalik’s office by Indian women as a mark of protest against his organisation’s [Sri Ram Sena] offensive actions upon young couples found together on Valentine’s Day. The colour pink was chosen because that colour was considered to be conspicuously feminine. The campaign was a revolutionary assertion of autonomy by India’s women.

Now look at this quote from a trade publication called Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, published in 1918: The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

Pink for boys and blue for girls. That was a century back. Today it’s just the opposite. Who makes such conventions? The society, of course. And randomly too. There is no rationale behind why boys should wear pink and girls blue or vice-versa. Gender is a similar whimsical social construct. The society constructs the gender conventions. In other words, the society decides what boys and girls should or can do.

But the time has changed. “Why should boys have all the fun?” Girls are asking that question not only in commercial ads today.

Many social conventions are made by a group of people who wish to have power over others. The ancient caste system with very clear rules about the roles that people can and should play was a creation of a group of shrewd Brahmins who knew how to wield power over the others effectively. Who made the conventions of the Sati, devadasis, restrictions on women, and so on? The same power-mongers and power-brokers, who else?

The times have changed though many top men in India seem to be unaware of that and hence cling to ancient systems like barnacles clinging to rocks till death. These men may seem to be currently very powerful and even effective but will end up eventually looking like bizarre gargoyles on the edifices of history. The world has travelled far ahead from centuries-old sanctimonious conventions and rituals. Gender roles have also undergone revolutionary changes.

Women have proved that they are no less than men in any way, anywhere. Women have conquered the peaks that men considered their sole prerogatives earlier. Women have embraced careers that were once exclusively male romances. In fact, women are outshining men in many areas. Pink is indeed turning out to be a “more decided and stronger” colour. Maybe, today’s boys who are increasingly looking effeminate need to arrogate to themselves the pink colour.

PS. This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Aging at Marmala Waterfall

 

Marmala Waterfall
Pic by Noel Joseph

Audrey Hepburn thought that a woman would grow more beautiful with age because “the beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole but … is reflected in her soul.” The caring nature is the real beauty of women, she said, and that quality only gets better as a woman ages. Passion is another aspect that makes women beautiful and age doesn’t affect that too, according to Hepburn.

Marmala landscape
Pic by Navya Joseph


As I visited the Marmala Waterfalls in central Kerala along with a few family members this Sunday, I became acutely aware of my vanishing passions. The place had a unique charm, a pristine beauty, because it has not yet been ravaged by massive tourism. The waterfall lies tucked away in the hills which are not easily accessible. There is a very narrow road leading to it from Theekoy in Kottayam district. If another vehicle comes from the opposite direction you will need great manoeuvring skills of driving. It prompted my nephew, Noel, to remark innocently that a small car like mine (Maruti Alto 800) has its advantages on a trip like this. It was his remark that made me realise that I was not a bad driver after all. It then led me to the thought why I had become so listless even on a trip like this which would have filled me with ecstasy until a few years ago.

Noel and Navya with their parents


Hepburn was speaking about women. I am more inclined to go with Bernard Shaw who said that “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” Why did life steal my smiles, let alone laughs?

I put aside that thought and enjoyed the trip as best as I could. I did make an effort to smile.

It doesn’t usually take two days for me to write a post about a trip I made. In spite of the fact that I enjoyed the trip, this post was delayed. Even now I had to force myself to write this. Something is changing in the new year. I’m yet to figure out what.

Real classes began at school for class 12 and I was happy to be back in a real classroom. But the masks on the faces of the students and their total indifference put me off again. I hope the 17-year-old students will overcome their inertia and bubble with at least as much energy I possess at the age of 60.

The way to the waterfall
Pic by Noel


I’m becoming hyper-conscious of my age, it looks like. It reminds me of Jules Renard’s words: “It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old.” I hope Marmala’s gentle gurgles and tickling landscapes will refresh me in this new year. I don’t want to be old yet.

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Child

Fiction

Joe lived alone in that two-storey building which he had inherited from his parents.  His parents were no more and he was a bachelor. Then one day someone asked him whether he would let out the upper portion of his house to a young couple. Joe was not at all interested in having a young couple invading his privacy.

“They won’t disturb you,” said Mathew, the acquaintance who had come with the request. “Your staircase is outside anyway.”

That was not enough to convince Joe to take a couple into his house. He was not fond of people, to tell the truth. He loved to live alone. That’s why he probably didn’t even marry. But if you can get into Joe’s heart and ask the question, the heart is likely to say that Joe considered himself too young to marry. He was in his late forties, though. Age doesn’t make you old really. Look around and you will find a lot of grown-ups who are more childish than children. Nowadays children are more like adults anyway. But that’s a different matter. We should return to Joe.

Joe was an accountant in a business firm in the nearby city. He spent his free time in his farm cultivating vegetables and tubers. The villagers knew him as a reserved chap and left him alone usually.

“I’m asking this as a favour,” Mathew pleaded. “Just for a few weeks until I make another arrangement.”

He was pleading on behalf of a young couple who had eloped because neither of their parents would consent to their marriage. The boy was a Muslim and the girl a Hindu. In the olden days people would frown at such interfaith marriages but wouldn’t consider them as some volcanic evils. But in 21st century India, it is called Love Jihad and considered as more catastrophic than a volcanic eruption. If a Muslim man marries a Hindu or Christian woman, it is a triumph of Terror, a Satanic machination to alter the nation’s demography, a recruitment of an innocent girl into a perverted harem.



As Mathew was speaking a young boy and girl moved from the darkness of Joe’s farm to the gentle light in the front yard. Just a look at them and Joe was taken up by the angelic aura on the faces of the young couple. They looked rather like children.

Joe’s heart melted. He was fond of children. Let little children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had said that and Joe liked Jesus just for that. Heaven is where children are, Joe thought. Obviously, he had no close association with children.

The very first sight of Abdul and Anjali – the eloping young couple that had stepped into the gentle light of the LED lamps in Joe’s yard from the darkness of the growing night outside – unfolded a vision before Joe. He saw Anjali’s belly growing big with child. The child was born in the due course of time. Joe could see the child’s smile.

The Prime Minister was speaking Mann ki Baat to the nation on the TV in Joe’s living room while Abdul and Anjali ascended the stairs to their new house let open by Joe’s love of children. “Mere pyare deshwasiyon,” the PM said, “I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives. But this is for your own welfare. You can kill me in 50 days if this doesn’t turn out to be for your good….” The PM was imposing a “people’s curfew” on the nation because of a pandemic called Covid that had gripped the entire world. From that midnight, until further instructions, nobody would move from where they were. There will be no buses or trains. No movement. Just stay wherever you are.

People stayed wherever they were for a few days. Then they knew that their fates were sealed. By death. Or by the government. What difference did it make when the final outcome is one and the same? They thought they would better die in their own villages, with their own people. And a nationwide exodus started. People walked on the highways en masse. Thousands of people. Walked while the public transport systems obeyed the rules of “public curfew”.

Abdul and Anjali didn’t move, however. Joe was happy to see them. Anjali helped him in the kitchen where they cooked their meals together.

The PM addressed his Pyare Deshwasiyon in many more Mann ki Baats. He exhorted people to put up with the inevitable pains of life. He said that their pains were nothing compared to what the soldiers endured in the borders of the country because of our devilish neighbours. The Galwan River in Ladakh smelt of chicanery though no one was sure whether the chicanery was saffron or red in colour.

Anjali’s belly grew big. Joe noticed it and was happy. He imagined a little, innocent child toddling in his rooms making angelic sounds. “Peace to people of good will.” In Joe’s imagination all angelic songs sang that.



The pandemic continued to rage all over the world. The PM continued to exhort the nation in his monthly homilies. The nation was not listening, however. Life was back to what it had always been: tasks and taxes.

And gods and killings in the names of gods.

One night Joe heard some sounds outside. He flashed his powerful torch into the thick foliage of his farm. Did someone move in that darkness? He was not sure. There was no more any sound. Peace returned. Peace to people of good will, some angel sang in Joe’s heart. He returned to bed. And slept dreaming of a little child that toddled in his rooms with the song of angels on its lips.

The next morning broke like a Satan’s grin. Anjali did not come to the kitchen as usual. Joe went upstairs to check whether everything was okay. But there was no one in the room. The door was left open. There were signs of a mild scuffle in the room.

“Both their people were searching for them,” Mathew told Joe. He looked alarmed. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to scare you.”

Somewhere in Rajasthan a young couple was killed by their own relatives because they belonged to two different castes. Honour-killing, they called it. Honour-raping was also gaining vogue in many of those places. Joe was not listening to the news on the TV, however. His mind was lost in a child’s longing for an angel’s song.