Saturday, November 30, 2013

Macaulays Children

A month or so, I bumped into an old gentleman, who has now taken to appreciating Hinduism. His story is the common story of many of us.

He was speaking about some aspects of Hindu culture and I ended up sharing a few things I knew. He admitted that he did not know that much. Considering how little I know, that was a bit of a surprise and I expressed it.

 “I was a rebel” he said. “I disliked every practice of ours that my parents followed at home and rebelled against them. It is only now that I realized that there is much good to be had there.”

When I grew up, everybody around me was a ‘rebel’ in this sense. We did not like anything traditional. Traditional clothes, traditional food, traditional learning, traditional practices. It was cool to be a rebel, while it was uncool to be traditional.

It was uncool to attend Bhajans, but cool to sit and watch movies. It was uncool to stay up all night for Shivaratri, but very cool to stay up all night to watch a cricket match.

Think and think again why that is so. It is your own indoctrination. Think why both cannot be equally cool.
So, what gives?

This is what Arun Shourie takes us through in the next few chapters of his book “A Secular Agenda”. We all are, what he calls, Macaulays children. Educated as per Macaulays hand me down dictums, we know very little about anything about our tradition.

He talks about how the Islamic rule followed by the British rule has led to what he calls ‘political tutelage bred inferiority among us, a feeling that our culture was inferior as it had led us to enslavement. Such acquaintance that educated Indians came to have with our tradition was what they learnt from western books and missionaries. How pervasive the effects of this system were and how they have endured to our very day will be evident from a single consideration: although each is among the simplest of the hundreds upon hundreds that can be set out, eery single example cited above, descriptions of our land in the Vedas, Puranas and epics, Shankara’s epic journeys, the Granth Sahib, the linkages between tempes and pilgrimages – will be a surprise to most of us, educated Indians today.”

When I went to the Kumbh Mela earlier this year, most people around me, the so called advanced educated types, actually looked at me in disdain as to why would I want to go to Kumbh Mela – which is essentially a ‘crowded, dirty place’.

So, on the one hand, our schools, inspired by Macaulay spread scientific temper and the like – which includes a complete ignorance of our epics and our practices – leave alone learning about Chanakya and Shankaracharya or the Bhakti movement – tell us nothing good about our practices. And whatever cultural aspect we are taught at home seems so remote from all the ‘education’ that we receive. We course, learn in history about Shivaji, but in a completely antiseptic way and we learn about the reformers of Hindu religion who worked hard to reduce casteism, superstition etc, but almost nothing is called out as good – with the result, that we think that there is little, if any good, in the Hindu way of life.

This results in what I call that the equivalent of the Maslowes Hierarchy – the Macaulay Hierarchy (note to myself, please write about this) if you will – with the highest level being self-loathing. Look around you and you will see many proponents of this – they place themselves above all Hindu belief systems (pilgrimages, festivals, temples, practices) and loathe that they were born a Hindu.

There are many variants of this and I heard this last from a gentleman who told me that corruption is way of life in India because over centuries this has existed and the only way for Indians to be ethically and morally upright is if they break off their traditional practices – that of course, means converting to a western system (hint). Forgetting that this same dharmic system gave us people like Rama and Krishna and many many saints who inspired us.

We as Hindus, educated Hindus, lack pride in our practices, partly because we don’t know enough to be proud. And that pride does not mean chest thumping, jingoistic pride that excludes everything else – but a simple acceptance of what we are.

All it means is a simple thought – expressed as  “I am ok, You are ok.” And that in our way of life, there are good aspects to live by and paths by great mean to be followed.

Because around you, everyone is instilling pride in what they are – and if you don’t feel proud of yourself and confident and comfortable with yourself – someone is bound to make you feel small – sooner and later.

And that is when I realized how the VHP slogan of yesteryears Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain, was so right about building pride in our psyche.

But coming back to the book chapters 3, 4 and 5 are all about this and it really made me sit up and think…and I am still thinking…I cannot read or write my mother tongue. Cannot read any Indian classic in the original language – not the Thirukural, not any works of the saints – unless translated in English.

Perhaps I should thank Amar Chitra Katha or the internet.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

India is not a country: DIY

A few weeks, I had the pleasure of talking to a gentleman, (who shall go unnamed). As the conversation progressed, he said this, in a trademark intellectual style, and this is worth trying at dinner conversations etc., where you need to appear intelligent. Believe me, it will never fail.

He started off by saying with a deep breath and taking a sip of coffee,"India is not really a country - it was never a country actually until 1947."

Now look around your table, if you ever try this. Usually at this point, anybody around the table, will start nodding very obsequiously to you and looking to you with amazement - kya point bola yaar. Luckily, I am a well read right wing idiot who believes that leftism is a refuge of the lazy.

So, I threw him off track and said, "But if you read Sanjeev Sanyals book, The land of seven rivers, even from a geographic and a political perspective many a time in history, it has been one country".

That somewhat threw him off track and he spoke about geography and politics and I also ran out of points, but I wish I read Arun Shouries book, A Secular Agenda (will add it to the reading list soon) before that.

The books first chapter is dedicated to idiots like this - who will pretend to be an intellectual while telling you that India was never really a country. So, the next time an intelligent guy blurts this line, here is what you can do.

"Of course, India was consisting of about 300 to 400 principalities and kingdoms. And therefore, it is not a country, fair enough. But do you know how many principalities were there in Germany before it became a country?"

Most likely you wont get an answer. Persist.

(Answer, Germany was about 300 principalities, almost all independent- which means, Germany could also have been one, two or 300 countries.)

At this point, he may spring the term "India is a geographic expression" on you. Calmly remind him that was used for the above country, Germany and not India.

Next question: "Did you know that after the 11th century, there is no 'English' dynasty ruling England? and that at the First world war did they sound their dynasty name from Guelph to the less German sounding Windsor? And that much of Europe was smallish principalities before it became what we know it as today?"

"Only about a dozen states can be construed as countries as per your logic that countries have to exist as a country for millenia", would be a great reminder at this point. (That quote is by Ed Hobsbawm - Nations and Nationalism since 1780).

So, not very different from India. And in the second chapter, Shourie takes it to a different level, pointing our cultural unity - which you wont find in the above examples. Now for your killer punch, at the dinner table.

"But have you seen how united we are culturally? Philosophically? Despite not having an organized religion? How similar festivals are celebrated across the country? Almost the same calendar? Despite multiple castes and languages? And did you know that the pujaris in Pasuhpatinath (Nepal) are Malayalis, from Kerala? Or that the Kamakshi temple in Kanchi is linked to the  Kamakhya temple in Guwahati? Or that every Diwali the sari for Goddess Amba of Kolhapur from the Lord at Tirupati? And this is from the time of Shankaracharya  that is about 788–820 CE – which makes us go a long way culturally, right?"

"Do you have similar examples for any other country? From 8th Century CE"

At this point, the conversation will likely turn to more pleasing topics like food or weather or television.

Anyway, more later once I read the book fully.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Living in a fools paradise

There is this new Google advertisement on how google search helps someone born in pre-partition India meet his friend now living in pre-partition Pakistan. Frankly, a very well shot ad film. Great music. Tugs your heartstrings all along.

But two things. The ad is perfectly politically correct. No wrong notes anywhere. I mean, it is always two men reminiscing. Why not two women - ah tough no and perhaps a tad unrealistic? And then again, the Indian guy has a daughter and the Pakistan guy has a son. Very convenient, considering the exalted state of women in Pakistan.

Second, of course, the ad being aimed largely at India where we still believe in this kind of bullshit and live in a fools paradise and not at Pakistan, where I presume that the kind of people who believe in peace in India are in a micro minority of perhaps 5 in number and aged over 100 or scared to air their views publicly. This is not a joke - when was the last time you heard a rally in Pakistan demanding peace with India or even a candle light vigil for the victims of Pakistan sponsored attacks in India (like the 26/11 attacks for example). What we do have is someone like Hafiz Saeed leading the call for jihad against India and this rally attracts thousands. That is a reality check for the peaceniks who think that there are people out there working actively for peace.

We have an industry here that actively promotes peace between the two nations - that there is no such industry in Pakistan might be news here. And Pakistan exploits this by using people like Ghulam Nabi Fai who in turn taps into the desires of people in India to sell their country for free shopping.

And for those who talk about people to people contacts, I highly recommend Imran Khan - from fast bowler to the leader of a party that protests the death of a Taliban leader in a drone strike. If you have other examples of people to people contacts working in Indias favour, please let me know.

But perhaps someone should release a satirical replica of this ad featuring Kasab and his team Googling about Mumbai.

Of course, I might be absolutely wrong and everything from 1947 down might be just my imagination.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The comforting theories we create for ourselves

A well known who I used to respect now talks of a supposedly inteligent theory: That communal violence is the cause of terrorism.

Fantastic. Can we have answers to two questions then. One is, this:

For a theory to be true, it has to be true in many places? Atleast in the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan? Where Hindus have been killed with alarming regularity, their temples desecrated and their houses damaged and vandalized - why are they not turning into terrorists? Why, dear writer, why? Where is no Hindu Liberation Front operating out of Pakistan? Or Bangladesh?

The second, closer home, can you name a single Kashmiri Pandit terrorist? And their temples were desecrated, many of them were killed and the bulk of them were driven out of the valley by fear - somehow, when I last checked, the Kashmiri Pandits were not into revenge bombing?

Why is that so?

The answer is very simple which these people with alien intelligence do not want to see. That terrorism is a mix of funding, ideologues, foot soldiers. That means, someone has to pay money. Smuggle arms. Bombs. Recruit soldiers. Brainwash them. It is a huge industry - of vested interests.

And bonus 3rd question: By the way, did you hear of the Ahmadiyas terrorist organization in Pakistan. Me neither. Somehow seem to have missed the news.

Perhaps gravity works selectively as well. These comforting theories will get us nowhere. Tough questions need to be asked and answered. Till then, we live in a fog of our own making.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Selected Readings

This is more of a follow up to my earlier post on Leftism is a Lazy Belief that comes because people like us are not willing to read or stay happily ensconced in a cocoon created by laziness and echo chambers.

What exactly do we mean when we mean we are centre of right or pro market rather than pro communist or leftist.  So, the logical next question is what should one read up on? Here are some thoughts. Feel free to add to it.

First up, a must read is George Orwells Animal Farm. This is a parody of the communist rule and but it is a delightful story told using an animal farm as protagonists. In a nutshell, for any ideology - the leaders have a set of rules for themselves and a set of rules for their followers. See any elitist arguing for socialism - including Congress honchos - while arguing for a socialist landscape, their own families asset balance grows by leaps and bounds. They get treatment in the best hospitals around the world and globetrot on chartered flights while denying basic development for their countrymen. Even the rulers of the most pure state in the world while having a police that is ostensibly a committee for a promotion of virtue and prevention of vice - lead very unvirtuous live abroad. Clearly, some people are more equal than others.

A great example of talking something and doing something else is none other than Mother Teresa. Best exemplified in his book Missionary Position by the late Christopher Hitchens - Teresa ran hospices, not hospitals, but when she herself required treatments, preferred not (you guessed it) hospices, but hospitals, not in Kolkata, but in some swank developed countries. Enough said, this book is worth a read - as it will question a lot of beliefs that have been implanted into your head.

Something our secular press will rarely highlight, but mostly hide and obfuscate - is the 1990 forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. This story is slowly but surely being turned into a story of Islamic victimhood by the likes of Basharat Peer, but the reality of the story is more about Islamic aggression. A first persons account is here, at Our moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita.

And while at it, a must read is actually Pravin Swamis - Jihad in Kashmir, for which I cannot find an online link - even though it obfuscates real causes, it does put the facts in order. 

Our school books will have you believe that a few handful of leaders won us Independence. Especially those with names beginning with Nehru and Gandhi. My English book (not history book) actually had something about Indira Gandhis contribution to the freedom struggle - which obviously was more important than many others. Read, Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre for a more realistic picture of the era.

Apart from this, do read, Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, Tamas (its translation) by Bhisham Sahni, Lajja by Taslima Nasreen, The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass, Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra., India - a history by John Keay,

This is a post I quickly cobbled together - will update this over time as I get time...

Friday, November 08, 2013

Book Review: Blood Telegram

I started reading the Blood Telegram by Gary Bass  – which is a book about the 1971 Bangladesh genocide started by Pakistan within its own (then) territory and how two democracies, United States and India approached it.
 I mistook the title to be about the ‘bloody’ genocide – which it is, but Blood actually stands for Arthur Blood who was the consul general of the US Consulate in Dacca at that time.

The book, has some very interesting points at the start – which very often is not apparent to those (like me) who were not around in that era.
United States, a democracy was supporting Pakistan, a state ruled by a despot while USSR – supposedly ruled by despots stood by India, a democracy.

“In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it (the Bangladesh genocide) ranks as bloodier than Bosnia and by some accounts it is in the same rough league as Rwanda” . Maybe worth pointing to Pakistan leaders as part of some debate in future.

“The Bengalis were mostly Muslim, but in an officially Islamic nation, there was some suspicion of the sizable Bengali Hindu minority” Interesting, that this statement is true in most officially ‘Islamic’ lands – any minority is liable to be suspected upon just by virtue of worshipping a different god.

The fact that there was a genocide, a targeted, selective genocide aimed at Bengalis (mostly Hindus) mostly escaped the worlds attention as Pakistan clamped down on the media – barring a secret transmitter in the US embassy at Dacca – and if not for this book, perhaps it would have never come to light. The book is the result of the US declassification of records of that time. And they do maintain painstaking records, it looks like. A lesson to be learnt from any future government in India. But Gary Bass does a fantastic job of putting together an absolutely readable account of the genocide while not missing out on the fact that was brutal. Bass also largely shies away from political correctness while sticking to facts  – and pulls no punches as he narrates the story.

Of course the authors interest is in showing US complicity to the genocide and rightly so. But as a reader based in India, this is a story that happened at our doorstep and it does not look like we knew the entire implication of it. This was in all likelihood, worse than the partition on the western side.

The books talks of entire town blocks being wiped off, machine gun attacks on civilians, a dormitory hall of Hindus at the Dacca University that bore the brunt of attacks and of corpses littered everywhere in Dacca. Apart from this, it focuses on some brave individuals who stood up against their government (US), notably Arthur Blood and other staffers in the consulate at Dacca, brave journalists who chase down a story under extreme conditions and also a good story of how the Indian government handled the situation.

The author brings out what mostly people like us, born after 1972, would have never known. What the then Indian government did (and by and large, the entire effort on the Indian side was bipartisan), how the US government manipulated the situation to benefit Pakistan (complete with verbatim conversations) and how the other powers that be reacted (with a lovely dig at France).

Frankly, a riveting read for anybody in this space, who wants to know contemporary history or who want to know a glimpse of the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh.

Have I missed it or is there a similar book published anytime in India?

(Cross posted in CRI)

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Of drones and encounters

A terrorism operation may sometimes go awry and end up arresting or occasionally, killing an innocent, but remember that a terrorist bomb kills only innocents. (If the person setting up the bomb dies, that is not counted)

An encounter with a terrorist suspect may go wrong and that is bad and the police will be taken to task for the mistake, but that does not offer legitimacy whatsoever for a terrorist to place bombs in crowded places and claim the lives of hundreds.

And while at it, a drone may end up killing innocent civilians, but a terrorist always kills innocent civilians.And here is a great article, via @harshgolicy

Worth a thought.

Victims of terrorism

Recently, at a Narendra Modi rally in Patna, live bombs exploded leading to 6 deaths - that was an assassination attempt, an attempt to kill thousands by causing stampede and the fact that this is a case of lax security is not being debated is an irony in itself.

Now, these bombs were planted at his rally and those who succumbed did so because they happened to be at the venue. Now, quite naturally, it is a great gesture on NaMos part to meet the victims.

But the Congress and the RJD think it is votebank politics. Let us examine this.

Victims of terrorism, like victims of communal riots are victims first.Yet, the Prime Minister visited only the refugee camps of certain communities - but this is perfectly secular - and it, of course, nothing to do with any vote bank politics. None at all.
See what Nitin Gadkari says

Earlier, there was vote bank politics and sympathy for terrorists. Now, that sympathy has been converted into support for the sake of vote bank politics. Some parties are using their political power to help terrorist organisations and terrorist leaders. This is very unfortunate for the country. Because of vote bank politics, the present government is creating problems for the future of the country by supporting terrorist and terrorist organisations and adopting a sympathetic approach towards them. [Link to his interview in Financial Express]

But an eminent rabble rousing personality of the Congress can visit families of those arrested in terrorism related cases. Perfectly secular? Of course, the Congress distanced itself, but come on, the man holds a senior position in the party.

And so, if visiting terrorism victims has suddenly become communal, what to make of those visiting terrorism suspects? 

And then again from the Chindu, we get to hear stories of how an IM suspects father is struggling for survival. Well, dear newspaper, surely if you search for the victims families, you will find their sole breadwinner, a youth was killed in almost all cases (I googled, but looks like that great newspaper has done no profile of any victim - though I did read a few on twitter).

Update: And then again, inviting a Taliban leader to speak at a conference in India is also secular.