Kerala celebrates its state festival,
Onam, today. The spirit of Onam is the sheer antithesis of contemporary
politics which is governed by post-truth strategies. This morning’s national
dailies brought us the news that the Income Tax raiders laid siege to more than
110 offices which were not kowtowing to the ruling party at the Centre. Raids
and other forms of oppression have become the most common way of dealing with
critics of the union government today. Every Indian today is expected to dumbly
accept whatever the union government dishes out. This is just the opposite of
what Onam teaches.
Onam is about
self-sacrifice and integrity. Fundamentally a harvest festival, it is sustained
by the legend of King Mahabali during whose reign Kerala was a sort of utopia
where the people were highly virtuous. Honesty, equality, justice and other
principles guided the nation unfailingly. The king was the paragon of all such
virtues. But he was an Asura king. Hence the gods in the heavens were not quite
chuffed with his popularity. None less than God Vishnu himself took an avatar
in the shape of Vamana in order to sent Mahabali to the netherworld (Patala)
Onam does not
celebrate that fraudulence, however. Amit Shah wanted Keralites to do that. A
few years back he wished “Happy Vamana Jayanti” to the people of Kerala on the occasion
of Onan and tasted the hellish fury of Malayalis. No, Onam is not about the
victory of the gods. Not the victory of fraudulence which is not uncommon in Indian
legends including the epic Mahabharata. Onam celebrates the return of Mahabali
to visit his people with the due permission of his vanquisher. An annual visit
of his people by a loving king. The loving and virtuous king happens to be a
demon and his nemesis happens to be the mightiest of the gods! Is it irony or
catastrophe? You decide.
When I saw
the names of certain publications which were raided yesterday – The Print, The
Wire, The Caravan – I was reminded of the dwarf Vamana and the great
I think India
is now governed by the spirit of Vamana and all Mahabalis are being sent to the
netherworld through raids of all sorts.
edition of Mathrubhumi weekly [Malayalam] carries a story by celebrated
Malayalam writer Zachariah. Ammalu is a prostitute whose father was a Communist
who loved Mahatma Gandhi. Seeing her father paying obeisance before a picture
of Gandhi’s every morning, Ammalu too venerated Gandhi but without knowing who he
really was. Ammalu asks the narrator-protagonist of the story, “Who shot
Gandhi?” She wants to know the details of the Gandhi assassination. But the
narrator doesn’t tell her. Instead he sings a song, the prostitute’s song: “Every
night belongs to her.”
raining outside. A spatter of raindrops falls on the narrator and Ammalu
through the window. The narrator doesn’t see his room anymore. Instead he sees
many skies. There are rainbows and stars and planets and international vessels
floating in those skies. He hears the humming of eternity.
I stifle my sob when I look at The New Indian Express headline in front of me: Tax raids on top policy thinktank, NGO, Trust.
I will celebrate Onam, however. Let there be light at least in my rare celebrations.
PS. My previous posts on Onam: Here