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Showing posts from April, 2022

Zeitgeist

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This is the last post in the A-to-Z series that I have been writing in April. Most of the posts in the series touched explicitly or implicitly the post-truth politics of present India. Post-truth is the zeitgeist of India now. Facts don’t matter here. Emotions do. Slogans do. We have a Prime Minister who loves to play with words. He keeps on giving us new slogans every year, if not more frequently. Remember slogans or jingles like Achhe din aane waale hain ? Make in India (which has now become Break in India), Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Minimum Government Maximum Governance, Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas … Hollow slogans. That has been the zeitgeist of India from 2014. Hollow. Resounding hollowness. What is the reality behind those slogans and rhetoric? I found the following illustration from a Malayalam weekly the most apt depiction of our present reality.  You know what it means. A thickly populated area in the national capital is bulldozed after Mr Modi’s supporters orchestrated a ri

Yesterday

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Yesterdays pretend to be sweet. One of the most popular poets of Kerala, ONV Kurup, composed an unforgettable song about the poet persona’s longing to return to the days of his childhood and wander once again in the courtyard where his memories roam, shake the fruit trees, draw water from the well and taste its pristine sweetness… The past is supposed to be pristine and hence sweet. I have a huge collection of old Malayalam film songs in the pen drive that plays while I drive. Many people who have travelled with me have wondered whether I’m in love with the past. I am not. My past had nothing to make me feel nostalgic about it, let alone romantic. My childhood was a pain and youth was worse. There is nothing sweet or pristine about any of it. Absolutely nothing. My childhood reminds me of the canes wielded by my parents and teachers with Gradgrindian cold brutality. Those canes were replaced by repressive social games played by certain missionaries in my youth. So why do the Mal

Xenophobic Delights

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Narendra Modi made nationalism India’s national pastime. The kind of nationalism that he advocates is a very narrow-minded view which amounts to his personal conviction that India is the greatest country because he was born in it. Hand in hand with that narcissism walks xenophobia. Modi’s xenophobia is not so much fear as hatred of the others. He has succeeded in raising hatred to the stature of a virtue. In 2019, Time reported that 90% of the hate crimes in the past decade happened during Modi’s reign as PM. Today, three years later, that figure will be higher, no doubt. 99% of hate crimes in the last decade in India must have happened with Modi’s tacit support. In 2016, an online dictionary cited xenophobia as the word of the year. The ascent of Trump with his kind of xenophobia is what prompted the dictionary to highlight that word. Trump hated a whole lot of people. He got along very well with Modi, however. Similar souls who had many things to hate and few to love. Xenopho

Wiesenthal’s Revenge

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Franz Stangl Dusseldorf, 22 Dec 1970. The court finds a 62-year-old man named Franz Stangl guilty of genocide and sentences him to life imprisonment. As soon as the verdict is passed, another man present in the courtroom takes out his wallet. pulls out a photo of Stangl, tears it up into pieces and throws it into a dustbin before walking out of the room nonchalantly. That man is Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal is the man who tracked Stangl for about 20 years in order to bring him to justice. He ferreted out more than 1000 Nazi criminals and brought them to justice. With cool determination and total dedication. Why? Wiesenthal was a survivor of the Holocaust. He lost his family members, except his wife, to the Nazi genocide which killed over 6 million Jews with state support. The government becoming a mass murderer is the ultimate degeneration of a nation. When murder is made a virtue by the government, humanity itself dies without a second thought. People become murderers happily. The

Vamana’s Deception

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A few years ago, Home Minister Amit Shah infuriated the people of Kerala by wishing them Happy Vamana Jayanti on the occasion of their state festival Onam. While Vamana is the fifth incarnation of God Vishnu for Amit Shah and his counterparts in North India, Vamana is a monstrous impostor for Malayalis. (That’s yet another of the umpteen instances that highlight the impossibility of a monolithic Hindu religion.) Vamana sent Kerala’s most beloved king, Maveli, to the netherworld merely because of jealousy. Maveli (elision for Maha Bali or Bali the Great) was a demon (asura) king. But he was beloved to his subjects because during his reign Kerala was a utopia. There was fraternity, equality, justice, truthfulness, and so on everywhere in the kingdom. Maveli had become greater than the gods for the people of Kerala. Obviously, gods didn’t like that. So none less than Vishnu took the form of a dwarf, Vamana, and deceived Maveli. That deception was punishment from gods to an asura for b

Ulysses

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  Mediocre existence is utter absurdity. Poet Tennyson made the Greek hero, Ulysses, rage against that sort of existence in one of his most celebrated poems titled after the hero himself . Tennyson’s Ulysses is an old man who is quite unhappy with a life that seems idle to him. He looks around and sees the ordinary people doing nothing more than eat, mate and hoard. What’s the point of such an existence? Ulysses thinks of it as “savage” existence. Ulysses wants to live life to its fullest. “I will drink / Life to the lees” is what he says. His heart is hungry for more, more than what satisfies the ‘savage’ man. Ruling a country of ‘savages’ is not his work, Ulysses thinks. His son who possesses a different spirit of “slow prudence” can do the job of subduing a savage people “to the useful and the good.” His own mission is “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Tennyson’s Ulysses is an eternal seeker. To be fully human and fully alive is his dream. Life never gives us fu

T for Taxes

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Maggie and I went out today for some shopping and had lunch out. The government gained a few thousand rupees. We bought some clothes. The taxes were about 6% on average. Even a decent shirt costs over Rs 2000 today. I bought two shirts and a pair of trousers. Maggie bought a sari and a couple of churidars. The bill comes around Rs 20,000. The government gets 6%: that is, Rs 1200. We go for lunch. The bill is about Rs 500. The government gets Rs 60. We buy soaps and other essential items from a hypermarket. The government gets a few hundred rupees. We fill fuel in the car. The government becomes a highway thief. I buy a bottle of Morpheus brandy on the way back since it’s weekend. Cost: Rs 1386. The government gets more than Rs 800 by way of tax on that one single bottle because the tax on liquor in Kerala is 250%. Wow! I renew my car’s insurance. The government swindles me out of a few thousand rupees on the minimum premium possible. I go to the bank to check my account. The govern

Snake Spirituality

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Once upon a time a young snake belonging to a breed that had not been seen hitherto appeared in the Snake Temple [ Sarppakkavu ] in God’s Own Country. “I come from the universe,” the new arrival declared rather majestically. “I am on a spiritual quest,” he added. He went on to say many things like: he was a celibate, he had completed the char dham yatra, his aspiration was to become a viswaguru, and so on.     “He’s king cobra,” the oldest viper among the snakes in Snake Temple said. The other snakes looked at King Cobra in admiration. King Cobra was very eloquent. He spoke words of apparent wisdom. He enlightened the snakes in the Snake Temple on their ancient heritage. “Our gods had serpents for bed, serpents as crown on head,” he said. “Serpents are divine. We snakes should be united.” The rat snakes and wolf snakes and vipers and kraits and each and every snake in the Sarppakkavu were impressed by the eloquence of King Cobra. All these snakes of different breeds and classes a

Raina’s Romance

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Raina is the heroine of Bernard Shaw’s anti-war play, Arms and the Man . Her father is a major in the army and her fiancé is a soldier who risks his life with ostensible heroism for the sake of his country which is in war. The plot unfolds during the 1885 war between Bulgaria and Serbia. It is only natural that Raina has romantic notions about war. War is seen as an act of patriotism or nationalism by mediocre minds. There are many people for whom war has romantic shades insofar as war is one of the ideals of the nation. You will find countless such people if you look around. All those who clamour for wars with their neighbouring countries for one reason or another tend to be romantic fools at heart. That was Bernard Shaw’s view. For Shaw, war is a useless occupation of people who don’t know what better things to do with their imagination or lack of imagination. Such people find it fun to go and scratch out some land belonging to the neighbour or start a fight over whose god is sup

Que Será, Será

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Que Sera, Sera (What will be, will be) is a song from the 1956 Hitchcock movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much . As a child, the singer asked her mother what she would be? Would she be pretty and rich? And mother’s reply was: Que sera, sera. The future’s not ours to see, she added. When the girl grew up and became a young woman, she repeated the question with a slight change to her sweetheart and the reply was the same. Once again, the question is repeated. This time it comes from her children. And she gives them too the same answer. This song has started playing again and again in my mind these days. I imagine a girl who is not so little – let’s call her Sara – and who is not quite happy with that answer. “Imagine those two little kids in the Kiev flat , left there by their 20-year-old mother for nine days without food and one of whom died,” Sara tells me with tears welling up in her eyes. Sara has a genuine concern about our world. “What will be is what we make it to be,” she tel

Paradises Lost

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The choice was between awareness and paradise. Paradise was lost in that conflict. That is how the Bible tells the story of the origin of humankind. The great English poet, John Milton, converted that myth into one of the most moving epic poems titled Paradise Lost . Paradise had to be lost if the human creature had to rise above the state of being a mere animal, a creature with a lower consciousness level. Adam and Eve were innocent until they ate the fruit of knowledge, the forbidden fruit. The only condition that God had put on the first couple was that they should not strive to rise above being mere animals. “Do not eat the fruit of knowledge” meant that Adam and Eve should remain as ignorant and hence as innocent as the other animals in Paradise. Paradise is a state of innocence. It is not a place. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they lost innocence but gained awareness or a higher level of consciousness. Milton’s epic poem presents Eve as “our credulous mother.” It

Oceans are restless

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  Cherai Beach, Kochi The beach is one of the loveliest places on earth. I can spend hours sitting on the sand and looking at the restless sea. The waves. What are they hungry for? They never rest. You can watch a wave coming from far away in the sea and moving relentlessly, on and on, until it lashes against the shore and returns. And returns. It is an endless process. A process that started somewhere beyond the reach of your vision. Your vision ends where they call the horizon. But you know that the horizon is not the end. It is the beginning, in fact, the beginning of another world. Another world from where Vasco da Gama was carried by the restless waves to Kerala many centuries ago carrying the Portuguese colonial power in a few ships. The tang of pepper and cinnamon on the beaches of Calicut beckoned Vasco and his crew like the sirens on the enchanted island of Odyssey . Vasco came, Vasco saw, Vasco conquered. The legacy left by him five centuries ago has survived to this day

Nationalism is a drug

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Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children describes nationalism as “a dream we all agreed to dream.” Without that collective dream, it would be quite impossible to keep a nation like India united in spite of the million mutinies that have always simmered beneath the veneer of its unity. We need the dream. As much a dream as religious paradises are dreams. Political scientist Benedict Anderson argues that nationalism is more like   religion and kinship . There is no logic in religion and kinship. There are only emotions. It’s about bonding people together in a strange stupor of intoxication. Have you ever experienced that the feeling deep within you when you hear a moving patriotic song is similar to the feeling given by a religious exercise? Anderson goes on to say that nationalism has never produced its own philosophers . It has hooligans and killers. It has sloganeers and rhetoricians. But no philosophers. Nationalism, like religions, does not require thinking. Like drugs, it is ab