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Vamana versus Mahabali

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) using fraudulence.

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 Mahabali.

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.

The latest 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.”

It starts 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.

He hears Ammalu’s sobs.

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


  1. Hari OM
    May this auspicious festival and New Year bring happiness and prosperity to you. And at least a day of respite from the ravages of news items... YAM xx


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