Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Do We Need To Support The Minority?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen anger in some of the middle and upper-middle class friends over the pseudo-secularism that Congress has debased themselves to, how their appeasement of the ‘minorities’ knows no moral bounds, and how it strips away the ‘majority’ of their rights in their own country. The anger is palpable and is bursting at the seams. This group of people want to do away with the current dispensation at the Centre and feel Modi will prove to be a panacea to their problems. Modi – with his ‘Gujarat model of governance’ will wave a magic wand and India will be propelled to the forefront of economic growth and prosperity. Are we na├»ve enough to believe that things can be so simple?

Firstly, Modi inherited a state that has always had a bright history of industrial growth. No, Modi did not wave a magic wand. The roots had been set, the base was there, and he built upon it. Kudos to him for that, and no one is taking it away from him. But in a country like India where at a time over 40% of the population lives hungry, is catering to the private sector enough? Does smoothing out an already well-set process make you God? As Amartya Sen says, a model of redistribution model is better suited for a country like ours. What about the 40%? Do we hear anything about Modi doing something to improve the village level development or the grassroots governance at the panchayat level? Has he made a dent on hunger and undernourishment or child mortality or women empowerment/education? Fact is, in all of the years when he has led Gujarat, the human development indices of Gujarat have not developed as much as his loyal supported would have liked to believe. Leading a nation is a whole different ball game.

The middle class people, who seem to have been the most bothered by the Congress’ style of garnering a vote-bank by appealing to the minorities and taxing the middle-class, are the ones who have turned towards Modi in the hope that he will lead India like no one else had. And this is the vote bank Modi is and has always been appealing to. We despise the ‘pseudo-secularism’ displayed by the Congress because it leaves us, the majority, with nothing. Where are our rights, we ask? Why do we have to live like minorities in our own country? And this is the very sentiment which plays into the hands of Modi.

But in all of this, we forget one essential thing. If a party at the center supports the minority community, what is the worst that can happen? Can the minority community, which naturally would have faced countless instances if injustice and inequity, suddenly become so powerful because of that support as to drive out the majority community from all its rights and positions of power? No, precisely because the minority community will always have less number. Now look at the other scenario, which Hindutva epitomises. What if the majority community, is given the immunity to drive the minority community out of whatever little rights it had, what would become of the moral fabric of a country like India which has prided itself in treating all religions, communities and castes as equal? Who would look after the minority community then? The majority will always have enough means to look after themselves. Who are we kidding? No one is taking away our rights. No one can, because our majority voice will always be supreme. But what of those who feel choked within our system whenever they go out to beg for their rights? What do they feel when they are denied rightful amount of government sponsored ration, or are spurned from government jobs, or are denied a promotion just because they are ‘overtly religious’ with their flowing beard, or when they constantly live in the fear that intelligence officers can come knocking at their doors, wrongly framing them in a terrorist blast which killed innocent Hindus? How many of us live in constant fear of being dragged into court for a little transgression of law? How many of us in the majority community feel we are being framed wrongly, or fear being raided in our homes any time of the day, or tremble to post online such an article as this without hiding our identities or making ourselves anonymous? Not many. Thus, there needs to be someone who takes the side of those whose voice is not as loud. Isn’t it better to have someone who stands by them in the name of secularity, even if it’s out of political motives, than to leave them to maulvis or religious ayatollahs who would invariably rise up if they are left alone to fend for themselves? What would become of our nation then? Total annihilation is what I foresee, that would make what happened during partition look puny in comparison. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hindutva vs Secularism - The Debate Goes On

I recently saw a status message of a friend of mine on Facebook and it provoked me enough to give it a poke. It started a deep discussion which matured so well that it surprised me. It is a very pertinent debate seeing how India is shaping up today, and it would be great if you people can give your views of what you feel about it right here on the blog.

Original Status: What really appalls me is the fact that Hindu Nationalism is being equated with Fascism. Which part "Hindu" or "Nationalism" resembles fascism? Isn't secularism being mauled by appeasing a particular community rather than empowering them? I am no right winger but this shallow hypocrisy of Congress is an insult to every self-respecting secular Indian!

Me: One thing that both Fascism and Hindu Nationalism seek is so called "purifying" the nation state, proclaiming that the state belongs, relegating the reason for this to some unknown texts or maybe the fanatics' own wisdom, to one particular religion, community, class or race. For one it was race, for the other it is religion. What's actually appalling is the fact that we should question that who are these self-proclaimed righteous Hindu "leaders" to tell us that our great nation belongs to only one religion? Tell me, did Hinduism ever have "leaders"? Do we need an Ayatollah? India's differentiation and its very greatness lies in the fact that many faiths, multiple communities and various creeds cohabit peacefully, and nothing has been able to rupture that moral fabric. THAT is what India is about. (I'm not getting into the politics of it as I don't want to dip into the murky pool where every party is blemished, so I'm not taking sides there)

A: Let me preface this comment by making it very clear that I have no soft spot for Right wing elements in any religion, they have done more harm than good for the cause of religion per se. Having said that, I disagree with your analogy of Fascism with Hindu Nationalism. Would you consider Swami Vivekananda as a fascist who was a champion of secular ideals but at the same time not apologetic about being a Hindu? And I am quite sure his being a Nationalist requires no further mention.

Hinduism was never a religion to start with. It was and is a still a way of life. The plurality in our society is not a recent phenomenon but a part of our cultural ethos and based on "Vasudeva Kutumbhkam" (One World, One Family) which is a basic tenet of Hindu Philosophy.

My question is why is secularism which you rightly said is a part of our ethos being used to make one religion as the oppressor and other as the oppressed? Why is it not possible to be proud of your heritage without risked being called a "fascist". I strongly condemn this inverted secularism which instead of being indifferent towards religion[as defined in our constitution] is being shamelessly used to appease the minority community!

The assumption by the Congress that minorities will be appeased by these shallow gestures is an exercise in self defeat. I am quite sure the citizens of this country irrespective of their religious affiliations are intelligent enough to look past this shallow policy of appeasement where minorities are simply looked as a political tool rather than respectable citizens of this country!

Me: Let’s not confuse Hinduism, the religion, with Hindu Nationalism. These are two very different things. Hinduism, like you said, is a way of life. It's a culture, it was never a religion. Hinduism is the only religion which does not claim that those who are not following it are infidels, non-believers or kaffirs. Every other major religion in the world does that (Source: India: From Midnight, to Millennium and Beyond, Shashi Tharoor).

It's a shame if we talk of Swami Vivekananda in the same breath as we talk of these ignoramuses that we see today waving the Hindutva flag. Did Swami Vivekananda ever say that to reclaim our Hindu honour, we need to destroy a place of worship of another religion (read: Babri Masjid), and build a temple in its place? Did Swami Vivekananda in any of his works proclaim that India is a Hindu nation? Did Swami Vivekananda EVER ride a chariot to a mosque, break it down and feel glad to be a Hindu? Did he ever even feel the need to reinforce his Hinduism in this way? No. Never. Because this is not being a Hindu. This is not who Swami Vivekananda was. But this is who these people are.

Swami Aseemanand, who doesn't feel ashamed to call himself a "swami", admitted to planning, and carrying out Mecca Masjid blasts, Malegaon blasts, Samjhauta Express blasts and Ajmer Sharif blasts, killing hundreds of innocent people. After all this, do you think Hinduism stands any different from the blotched Islam? Don't you think these are the same terrorists, with just a different faith and a different tongue? My friend, these are the Hindu Nationalists today, as the reality is. Not Swami Vivekananda. He was a true Hindu, not those who claim India as theirs today. Think over it.

1st century BC - Buddhism was such a major religion in India, great Chinese scholars in their texts (remember China was a great flourishing civilization with countless erudite scholars) used to mention India as a "Buddhist Nation" for a whole millennium. (Source: The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate 1998). Post that, for almost 4 centuries, India was ruled by Muslim rulers, where, again, Islam was a prominent religion, as it still is. Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Charvaka (the atheists)- so many religions and schools of thoughts have flourished in India. In all this, do you think India was ever a "Hindu Nation" as these stupid extremists do? Do you think India is "secular" because our 60 year old constitution says so? No my friend. India is secular because it has always been secular since, not centuries but, millennia. And India will remain so.

A: True, Hinduism is different from Hindu Nationalism but only in letter not in spirit. Unfortunately we are a nation obsessed with prefixes and suffixes (that explains why we have a term as a Hindu rate of growth, but that is okay because we are a secular nation). If you look at the history Hindu Revivalism (Championed by Rammohun Roy et al) was the base of Hindu Nationalism. This revivalism was to purge the ills which had plagued our religion. This revivalism somehow also set the context for renouncing the foreign rule, however in the due course this was hijacked by extreme fringe who were limited by their misunderstanding of India as a nation. I felt the context was important. Hindu Nationalism was not an instrument to polarise people but to empower them under a unifying identity of an Indian. It is unfortunate it now identified with the fringe these days. Politics of hate has no place in broader scheme of Hindu Philosophy.

Swami Vivekananda can never be compared to any terrorist. Period! In fact, Swamiji's speech in Chicago answers precisely to your second comment of the series:
"Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent. It has been one of the principles of my life not to be ashamed of my own ancestors. The more I have studied the past, the more I have looked back, more and more has this pride come to me, and it has given me the strength and courage of conviction, raised me up from the dust of the earth, and set me working out that great plan laid out by those great ancestors of ours."

Terrorism has no religion; the fringe has no space in our society! But that has nothing to do with Hindu Nationalism in its original and purest form.

You in your last comment (Amartya Sen's book) you have substantiated my view from the earlier comment. Why could Buddhists and Mughals assimilate in this alien land so effortlessly? How could have barbarians from western Asia (Mughals) turned into model administrators with deep respect for religious and cultural sensitivities (Cow Slaughter was banned during Akbar's reign)? This was a result of the ethos and not necessarily the religion which characterised this nation. And my submission is that this ethos was firmly held in Hindu Philosophy and not necessarily the codified Hindu religion.

Me: I would love to see Hindu Philosophy flourish, like a revivalism of some sort. But that's not even close to what’s been happening in the mainstream politics, is it? It's the wrong sort of militant nationalism that is being preached and practiced. I agree the ruling party at the center is guilty of using "secularism" to garner a vote bank. But then equally guilty is the opposition party of placing Hinduism as a religion in the hands of the terrorists in the name of revivalism, is it not? Vote bank politics has been a bane of Indian politics since the past few decades, and every party is to be blamed equally for it. We, the educated class, who can see things as they are, cannot afford to see one form of hypocrisy and ignore the other.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thumb on the Button

A pernicious melody, it makes me sway
Not out of merriment, no, but like the death knell of disaster
My nerves wreck my brain, I shake, I sweat, I swear, but don’t want it to show
The time is ripe, as He would say, so why does my thumb still fumble for the button
That will end this conflagration of megalomania that we see all around?

But will it? Will this change the way evil creeps in
Drunk on power, high on demagoguery
Will this massacre really tilt the needle at all
When measured on the scales of retribution?
A greater purpose, a bigger achievement, a grander exultation is what it will then be

This is how he would feel – a spy working against his own nation, but with loyalties aligned towards another purpose which can never face the same direction. He is in a small closeted room, and a human bomb is what he is. His thumb is on the button that would blow them all to pieces – those powers-that-be, united in this room, not on purpose but by accident, and a well-planned one at that. Should he or should he not? Time’s running away – he only has a couple of minutes more. His loyalties are divided. It’s his daughter’s voice that makes him think about it. He would love to be with his family, he couldn't leave them in disgrace like this. Is this what is interfering with his purpose? If yes, he would be too ashamed to admit it. But he likes to believe that he is in an enviable position now, and very soon as the stakes increase, so would the trust that they place on him. Could he play a bigger game or should he stick to his purpose, like a boy on an errand?

P.S. – The last episode of the first season of Homeland, the 2011 TV series inspired me to write this. And, needless to say, those who have watched the series would understand where I am coming from. I just wanted to try my hand at expressing what Brody felt at that moment. And for those who haven’t watched it yet, sorry for the spoilers! :)

Melody on My Mind

My earphones perch comfortably in the cusp of my ears. I’m slouching on my newly bought bean bag, the purchase of which was made mostly to have a feeling of dwelling in something that comes close to being called ‘home’. After toiling in the office, which is well over 20 km from where I put up, for hours, I don’t want to come back to a place I see only as a temporary make-shift arrangement. I guess we all look for a sense of permanence wherever we go. A sense of familiarity, an air of routine is what keeps our anxieties in check. So here I am.

But this post is not about office, and it’s not about permanence. It’s about something much simpler – music. Why do I listen to music? I don’t know. I just do. It sends a dose of sanity shooting through my veins, especially after a long week of drudgeries and mundaneness. The permanence of routine that I talked of above does not take a lot to become something boring that drags us down slowly, which we want to snap out of. In such a situation, music is the best cure. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel good about life if it’s a happy song, and if it’s a sad one, I tend to dwell on and wonder at the depth of emotions and opportunities that come our way, the experiences we have and the way they shape our psyche, the way we turn for the worse, become defensive, irritable, accusatory, and what not. It makes me celebrate the profoundness that a sad thought churns about. A happy thought is just that, a thought that makes you be happy. But a depressing one is what makes you think, what makes you glassy-eyed, what makes you wonder at someone else’s pain and everyone else’s suffering. You think about how life kicks you when you are down, but you’ve got to learn to break through the hard ice sheet that is forming fast above you when you have been unfortunate enough to tread on the thinnest part of the sheet of ice on the sea of kismet, and fall into the icy cold water of karma or just plain bad luck. There’s no telling which. Neither then, nor later, no matter how many reasons may you give yourself for one or the other.

A cold draft makes the hair on my legs stand. I stretch myself and the bean bag adjusts itself obediently under my contours. Another weekend, another couple of days to look forward to. My sister told me some time ago that once you start working, your life is defined more than anything else by your weekdays and your weekends. Your life gets divided into these two neatly cut pieces, that are different as night and day, and just as sincere in their regularity and their importance in the scheme of things. I don’t want my life to be defined so simplistically. The very thought brings on an overwhelming feeling of disgruntlement. This is where music comes in, the landmark at which my life always takes a new turn and never fails to enrich my existence. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Chains of Reverie

A melodic beep-beep-beep of a phone on loud-speaker penetrates the lugubrious hum of the air conditioner running in the background. A sharp creak of a chair screams for attention, like a baby on opium making short sharp intermittent wails. A dull cacophony of a lot of people talking at the same time, far far away permeates from the inner chamber where there are some more cubicles. The loud voice of a Head of Department leaks out from the heavy glass door on my right, maybe painfully explaining a process to someone or giving someone an earful over the phone. 

There are two paintings adorning the wall facing me at the far end. One of them shows three people walking, two of them close together and one farther off, on a boulevard flanked on two sides by huge walls. Or it could be very tall trees. Hard to make out when you are 25 feet away. The other painting shows a bunch of yellow flowers, some with hints of red betraying the abundant yellowness, and one absolutely dark brown. I’d like to believe it means one rotten entity among a ‘bunch’ of employees. But I don’t think that was the original intention of the painter. The wall clock on the left of the paintings stands upright exuding confidence. As I type away, a clique of auditors from a big consulting firm, as I am told, enters our office, full of enriched swagger, with the air of knowledge of being someone important. There is a typing sound in the background, irregular, now stopping, now jerking ahead, telling me that some deliberate thought is being poured into the topic. 

A rumble of tyres rolling on the tiled flooring and I know my colleague, a fellow Management Trainee, has pushed back his chair and got up. I look at him and I see his arms extended with a slight bend at the waist to one side, eyes pulled together to almost being closed, and an expression of severe pain on his visage. A sudden jerk and I break out of my reverie. He was indulging in a big yawn of boredom. It was time for our mid-morning break, something which gives us a sense of regularity at office. I push my chair back, extend my arms, bend my waist slightly to one side, pull my eyes close and stretch. A painful expression crosses my face. And then I break out of it, suddenly turning towards him, as if, becoming supple, breaking free from the chains that held me; chains of reverie. Soothed in a cozy blanket of familiarity, regularity and certitude, we happily make a move towards the cafeteria.