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Showing posts from August, 2021

Nehru Vanishes from Indian History

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Narendra Modi has been trying every trick up his sleeve to make Nehru vanish from India’s history. He removed the first Prime Minister from every possible place including his residence Teen Murti Bhavan. He bulldozed the Delhi that Nehru inherited and nurtured and is replacing it with the Central Vista. Now with the help of the Indian Council of Historical Research he has deleted Nehru from the galaxy of freedom fighters. The latest posters brought out by that institution which is now populated by Modi’s handpicked bhakts have deliberately chosen to omit Nehru. I have never been able to understand why Modi hates Nehru so much. Is it the fear and envy of a pigmy brain when confronted with an intellectual giant? It could be that and more. In fact, it’s not only Modi but also the majority of his party people who seem to hate Nehru for reasons that only their gods may understand.   Today’s New Indian Express editorial , ICHR once again invites scorn upon itself , ridicules this fear

Phantoms on a Desert

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  Pic courtesy Pikrepo Somewhere in the arid landscape of the Rann of Kutch, the midnight’s full moon cast two shadows on the salty sands. The shadows were walking in opposite directions, one in the direction of Hindustan and the other in that of Pakistan. They met each other on the way. A woman all alone in this ghostly land! The male shadow felt a shiver slipping into the marrow of his bones. The female shadow was even more scared but did not reveal her scare. The man could not but look into the face of the woman. She looked so beautiful in that radiant moonlight. Beauty was irresistible for him, especially feminine beauty, because he was a writer by profession. Beauty stopped, stared into the eyes of the man fiercely and asked in an affected voice, “Can you really see me?” She intended to scare him away by making him believe that she was a ghost. The man was not only a writer but had also dabbled in psychology as an undergrad of the Kerala University before he was hijack

The Embarrassment called Death

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  A cemetery in central Kerala If I were one of those Midnight’s children – i.e., born when the country’s first Prime Minister was redeeming its age-old tryst with destiny from the ramparts of the Red Fort – I would have been dead three decades now. The average life expectancy in India was 32 years in 1947. That wasn’t too bad. Most countries did not fare much better. The average life expectancy calculated for the world until 1900 was just 32. By the time India extricated itself from the British rule, the figure improved in many countries. The Covid pandemic has made me increasingly conscious of death. Just the other day an acquaintance of mine passed away due to heart attack. He was a successful man by all normal standards: a professor in a college that paid the UGC scale to the staff. He was just 52 when death claimed him during sleep. A day after that death, a 16-year-old student of mine gave me a call to ask whether she could do her English project on how certain people coped

People of Violent Gods

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  Arthur James Balfour took a land belonging to one people and gave it to another people just by signing a declaration in 1917. Those were the days when the British Empire behaved as if the whole earth belonged to it. The Jews were just 7% of Palestine’s population in 1917. Today that country belongs to Jews and its original inhabitants have been pushed into destitution. The recent bout of violence between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs prompted me to read up their stories. I bought two books, one written by Western writers and the other by a Palestinian though he was born in America. Peter Mansfield’s book is a classical history of the Middle East originally written in 1991. The edition I have is one that was updated by Nicolas Pelham in 2019. The introductory chapter of this book gives us a glimpse into the history of the Middle East from the ancient days up to the Ottoman Empire. The very opening sentence of Chapter 2 is: “At the end of the eighteenth century, the

Duryodhana Paranjape

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  Makarand Paranjape Makarand Paranjape is a scared man, apparently. His article in today’s New Indian Express [ Hatred of Hindutva may lead to Hindumisia ] reveals him as a man with wobbling knees. He is scared to his solar plexus that the whole world is smitten by hatred of Hindus so much so that soon India will have to face Hinducide. Hindumisia is a new word for me, the only thing I learnt from Paranjape’s article. Paranjape claims to be a scholar, academician, and a poet, “with a track-record of over 40 years of university teaching all over the world”. I read some of his poems three decades ago as part of a literature course. He didn’t strike me then as a poet worth reading except for completing the course. I never read him once the course was over until his occasional articles in the above-mentioned newspaper began to disturb me. I don’t know why this old man should be scared to his bones just because some unknown outfit is organising a conference on Hindutva somewhere in

How to become a Brahmin

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  Sri Narayan Guru “Aaron, dear!”  The glimmer that characterised Andrews’ eyes was accentuated as he smiled through the long beard that made him look more like a Hindu sage than a Christian priest.  “You want to convert the Indians to Christianity.  But I’ve seen our Christ walking on the shores of the Arabian ocean wearing the robe of a Hindu sage.”  He described his meeting with Sri Narayana Guru, the Jesus in Travancore.  He spoke about Tagore and Ambedkar.  Aaron was already aware of Gandhi. “It is not the Indians who need our light,” concluded Andrews.  “We stand in need of their light.” Aaron was scandalised and did not conceal his feeling. “We have this silly notion of life as a series of sins and God as the all-forgiving father waiting for the prodigal sons to return home begging for forgiveness.  You are going to a country whose scriptures do not differentiate between God and human beings.  Aham Brahmasmi, I am God, they say.” The above passage is extracted from my

The Spirit of Onam

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  From the last Onam celebration in my school [2019] Maveli being escorted to the pavilion Five Onams ago, Amit Shah made a terrible mistake by wishing the people of Kerala on the occasion of Onam referring to the festival as Vamana Jayanti. Vamana Jayanti is the victory of Vamana. The victory of Vamana was the rout of Kerala’s most loved king, Maveli, whom Onam celebrates. Amit Shah’s greeting revealed his ignorance of Kerala’s version of Indian mythology. Otherwise, it revealed the arch politician’s quintessential villainy of surreptitiously trying to erase Kerala’s version which is diametrically opposed to the North Indian one when it comes to the Maveli-Vamana purana. For the uninitiated, Maveli is the Malayalam version of Bali who was an Asura king, an antigod (or a demon in the older translations). The Rig Veda, the Brahmanas, and the Ramayana all have slightly different versions of the Bali story. In the Rig Veda, Vishnu (whose incarnation is Vamana) takes three steps and

Pluralistic Ignorance

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  Cashew tree in love with my house Black ants laid siege to my house. Tiny, almost atomic, creatures. Suddenly they were there wherever I looked. In endless lines they marched like devoted soldiers conquering an enemy’s territory. I had no choice but raise jingoistic slogans and pull out some AK-47s. I drew Lakshman Rekhas all over with Hit chalk. I sprayed Hit Lime Fresh wherever Maggie permitted me. [She detests the smell of chemicals.] Hoards of black specks stared at me soon from the floor. Dead ants. Within hours of my cleaning up the entire place, new lines of ants appeared exactly in the same old places. The same infinite black lines moving like endless trains. Finally I traced their origins to two sources: my beloved cashew tree in front of the house and the ivy gourd behind. The ants were descending on to the walls of my house from these. I chopped off the cashew branches that touched my roof. I cut off the ivy gourd which had become too old to produce anything except bla

God’s men?

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  Image from The Guardian The problem with organisations like the Taliban and the Sri Rama Sena or Bajrang Dal is that they make choices for everyone in the country. The Taliban decides what the people of Afghanistan will wear, eat, learn, etc. The myriad right-wing organisations in India make similar choices for Indians though they haven’t yet reached the extremes of the Taliban. They will. It’s just a matter of time. Once the descent begins, it gathers momentum more rapidly than you imagine. All degeneration is like the avalanche: small beginning and disastrous ending. Who wants to make decisions for everyone in the country? Who decides what everyone should wear, eat, drink, which god they will worship, which language they will speak, who they will love or hate? The answer is obvious. Only those who think they possess all truths can make such choices for everyone. The Taliban think they are the custodians of all the essential truths. One such essential truth is that the televis

How to make the world a better place

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  "You need to have a fundamental assumption that either the people are essentially good or they are evil," my colleague and a sociology lecturer counselled me. I was in my late thirties and struggling with a protracted depression. He was giving me a choice between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Hobbes believed that human nature was fundamentally wicked. Without the rigours of the law, we would all be self-centred savages. Rousseau, on the other hand, declared that in our heart of hearts we are all good. If civilisation was the redeeming force for Hobbes, the same civilisation ruined people in Rousseau's philosophy. Man is born free and good but the institutions of civilisation enslave him everywhere, Rousseau wrote.  I chose Rousseau when my counsellor-friend demanded. The events that had led to my depression had made me feel that I was the only worthless creature in the whole cosmos. I had become the metaphorical drum in the marketplace. Everyone who passed b

Sanctity of Criminals

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  From DDA Park, INA, Delhi Half of our rulers in the Lok Sabha are notorious criminals. 233 of them are facing serious charges like murder, rape, and kidnapping. The case in the Rajya Sabha is not very encouraging either. One-fourth of them are deadly criminals. It is in that house of criminals that Venkaiah Naidu wept the other day saying that the opposition protests had sullied the sanctity of the house. My impulsive reaction as I listened to the news and watched Mr Naidu sobbing like an innocent girl was a mirthful laugh. I had never laughed so heartily for a long time. “Sacredness destroyed,” I repeat his words and cannot control my loud amusement. “If they are sacred, then what are we?” I ask Maggie who is watching the TV too. “Gods?” Maggie is silent. She is an ideal citizen unlike me. The number of criminals in the Parliament went on increasing election after election. It was 162 in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 185 in 2014. 233 now. And remember that these numbers refer to th

Pygmalion Effect

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I have seen many parents of my students staring at me with unconcealed scepticism when I tell them that their son or daughter is going to score very high in the final exam. “But she never opens the English textbooks,” once a mother told me with palpable vexation. “I am her textbook,” I said with my usual serene smile, “leave it to me.” The mother didn’t know what to say and she left looking rather unhappy. When the final result came, her daughter had scored 96%, one mark more than I had predicted for her. This happened in an early period of service at my present school. Now most parents know I mean what I say and they don’t stare anymore. Most of my students score enviably high marks in the final exam. How do I do it? I didn’t know until yesterday that my strategy had an official name in psychology: the Pygmalion Effect. You put your trust in a person’s merits, tell him that he has the potential to achieve such and such, and support him as and when required. You will get the resu

My first book

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  The complimentary copies of my first book arrived just one day before I took a leap into the dark at the age of 41. It was the summer of 2001. I had quit my job at St Edmund’s College, Shillong and had packed my little belongings. A colleague from Edmund’s came in the evening with a packet that had been delivered at the college address. Four copies of English Poetry: From John Donne to Ted Hughes , my first book. I took it as a good omen though I was battling the most protracted depression of my life. That book had a tragic history. I had done a lot of research before writing it. But all through those months of research I was treated by my colleagues like a mental retard with an ethereal ambition or something like that. Edmund’s was my hell. It scorched my very soul. Purification before you enter heaven. Delhi turned out to be my heaven. Strange things happen in life. I have narrated all those strange things of my life in Autumn Shadows . I wrote many books after English Poetry

Is Freedom Dying in India?

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  India's status in the Freedom Report India is set to celebrate its 75 th Independence Day amid a pandemic that seems determined to teach the world certain lessons. One of the first lessons that India should learn at this juncture is the meaning of freedom. As long as every citizen is not free – free from poverty, superstition, illiteracy, ignorance, and other such evils – the country’s independence from a foreign rule cannot make much sense. That was the firm opinion of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Freedom, in other words, is not mere political freedom. Freedom is personal, highly so. It is this personal freedom that is being killed brutally by the present dispensation in Delhi. Narendra Modi has created an India that the is the exact opposite of what Gandhi had envisaged. The transition from Gandhi’s mystic vision to Modi’s cabalistic vision is total now. Even international observers have made detailed studies about it and put out reports. Freedom House is

Hope springs eternal

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  It is sheer coincidence that the potential goodness of the human race is the theme common to the book I am now reading and TJS George’s weekly column in The New Sunday Express . The book is Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: A hopeful history , which I mentioned a number of times in earlier posts. The book is taking more time than usual to complete for two reasons: 1. I like the book and hence I read it slowly savouring the thoughts it offers; 2. CBSE has made quite many changes in the curriculum and they keep me engaged most of the time. Bregman seems to be an incorrigible optimist. But George is certainly not that. No journalist in India can be so optimistic. Optimism dies in India’s corridors of power, whether in the parliament or in the state assemblies. George concludes his cheery column on a cynical note suggesting that Derek O’Brien’s [a Rajya Sabha MP] comparison of Modi’s governance to the making of papri chaat is “unfair to papari chaat .” George’s entire article is about s